Local government facts and figures: Scotland

Quick facts

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  • Today’s council areas have been in existence since 1 April 1996, under the provisions of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1994
  • Orkney Islands is the council with the smallest population, with about 22,540 people – while the City of Glasgow has the largest population, with around 635,130 people.
  • At 25,659 square kilometres, Highland is the largest local authority by area – and at 60 square kilometres, Dundee City is the smallest
  • The local authority with the most inhabited islands is Argyll and Bute, which has 23
  • 29% of Scottish councillors are women (up from 24% in the previous local elections)

Councils and councillors

How is local government structured?

In Scotland, local government is organised in to unitary authorities. Each local authority is governed by a council, which is made up of councillors directly elected by the residents of the area they represent.

Sitting below these principal councils are community councils, which bridge the gap between the local authority and the community and are composed of elected volunteers from the community.

There are 32 unitary authorities in Scotland, and around 1200 community councils.

How many councillors are there?

Scotland currently has 1,227 elected councillors who are elected every 4 years. The last local elections were held in May 2022.

As of the May 2022 elections, there are 453 SNP councillors; 281 Labour councillors, 214 Conservative councillors; 152 Independent councillors; 87 Liberal Democrat councillors; 35 Green councillors and 1 councillor respectively for the West Dunbartonshire Community, British Unionist and Rubbish parties.

In the previous elections, there were 431 SNP councillors; 276 Conservative councillors; 262 Labour councillors; 66 Liberal Democrat councillors; 173 Independent or non-aligned councillors; and 19 Green councillors.

What do councillors do?

Councillors are responsible for:

  • Executive decision making – councillors attend full meetings of the council, and some hold executive posts
  • Scrutiny of decisions – councillors may serve on scrutiny panels, responsible for the scrutiny of existing policies and service delivery
  • Representing their ward – councillors represent and meet with residents and groups within their ward, and address the issues that they raise

Councillors can sometimes be involved in other areas, such as the development of new policies for the council. They may also sit on the boards of other organisations whose remit is related to that of the council.

What other roles are there in a council?

  • Administration– a group of councillors within a council who are able to command majority support and thus control the running of the council.
  • Council Leader– leads the council and is normally elected by the party or coalition that forms the administration of the council.
  • Chief Executive – The council’s Chief Executive is normally the head of its paid staff, employed by and responsible to the council.
  • Convenor– chairs council meetings and represents the council on civic and ceremonial occasions. In the cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee, the Convenor is known as the Lord Provost.
  • Officers – staff of the council who work to to carry out its various functions, such as teachers, social workers and planning officers.

Council Chief Executives


Council Chief Executive Since
Aberdeen Angela Scott May-14
Aberdeenshire Jim Savege Feb-15
Angus Kathryn Lindsay Nov-23
Argyll and Bute Pippa Milne Jan-20
Clackmannanshire Council Nikki Bridle Jul-18
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar Malcolm Burr Oct-05
Dumfries and Galloway Council Dawn Roberts Jul-22
Dundee City Council Gregory Colgan Dec-22
East Ayrshire Council Eddie Fraser Nov-20
East Dunbartonshire Council Ann Davie Jan-24
East Lothian Council Monica Patterson Dec-19
East Renfrewshire Council Steven Quinn Summer 2023
Edinburgh City Council Andrew Kerr Aug-15
Falkirk Council Kenneth Lawrie Jun-18
Fife Council Ken Gourlay Jul-23
Glasgow City Council Annemarie O’ Donnell Nov-14
Highland Council Derek Brown Aug-23
Inverclyde Council Louise Long Sept-21
Midlothian Council Dr Grace Vickers Aug-18
Moray Council Roddy Burns Oct-12
North Ayrshire Council Craig Hatton Oct-18
North Lanarkshire Council Des Murray Jun-18
Orkney Islands Council Oliver Reid Jan-23
Perth and Kinross Council Thomas Glen Aug-21
Renfrewshire Council Alan Russell Nov-21
Scottish Borders Council David Robertson Sep-22
Shetland Islands Council Maggie Sandison Feb-2018
South Ayrshire Council Mike Newall Nov-23
South Lanarkshire Council Paul Manning Nov-23
Stirling Council Carol Beattie Mar-19
West Dunbartonshire Council

Peter Hessett

West Lothian Council Graham Hope Sept-10

Council Leaders

Name Party Council
Christian Allard SNP Aberdeen City Council
Ian Yuill Scottish Lib Dem Aberdeen City Council
Gillian Owen Scottish Conservative and Unionist Aberdeenshire Council
Beth Whiteside SNP Angus Council
Robin Currie Scottish Lib Dem Argyll and Bute Council
Cammy Day Labour Edinburgh City Council
Ellen Forson SNP Clackmannanshire Council
Paul Steele Independent Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
Gail MacGregor Scottish Conservative and Unionist Dumfries and Galloway Council
John Alexander SNP Dundee City Council
Douglas Reid SNP East Ayrshire Council
Gordon Low SNP East Dunbartonshire Council
Norman Hampshire Labour East Lothian Council
Owen O’Donnell Labour East Renfrewshire Council
Cecil Meiklejohn SNP Falkirk Council
David Ross Labour Fife Council
Susan Aitken SNP Glasgow City Council
Raymond Bremner SNP Highland Council
Stephen McCabe Labour Inverclyde Council
Kelly Parry SNP Midlothian Council
Kathleen Robertson Scottish Conservative and Unionist Moray Council
Marie Burns SNP North Ayrshire Council
Jim Logue Labour North Lanarkshire Council
James Stockan Independent Orkney Islands Council
Grant Laing SNP Perth and Kinross Council
Iain Nicolson SNP Renfrewshire Council
Euan Jardine Conservative Scottish Borders Council
Emma Macdonald Independent Shetland Islands Council
Martin Dowey Conservative South Ayrshire Council
Joe Fagan Labour South Lanarkshire Council
Chris Kane Labour Stirling Council
Martin Rooney Labour West Dunbartonshire Council
Lawrence Fitzpatrick Labour West Lothian Council

What do councils do?

Local authorities in Scotland provide a range of public services, such as education, housing and planning, social care, roads and transport, economic development, environmental protection, and waste management.

Councils have different types of powers and duties which are set out in various different pieces of legislation:

  • Mandatory duties – things that councils are required by law to provide, such as social care, and primary/secondary education.
  • Permissive powers – things that councils do not have to provide, but normally do, such as recreation services and economic development.
  • Regulatory powers – such as trading standards, and alcohol licensing.

What is the political control of councils in Scotland?

CouncilPolitical control
Aberdeen CitySNP-LD coalition
AberdeenshireCon-LD-ind. coalition
AngusSNP-ind. coalition
Argyll and ButeLD-Con-ind. coalition
ClackmannanshireSNP minority
Comhairle nan Eilean SiarIndependent majority
Dumfries and GallowaySNP-Lab-LD-Ind coalition
DundeeSNP Majority
East AyrshireSNP minority
East DunbartonshireSNP minority
East LothianLab minority
East RenfrewshireLab-ind. minority
EdinburghLab minority
Falkirk SNP minority
FifeLab minority
GlasgowSNP minority
HighlandSNP-ind. coalition
InverclydeLab minority
MidlothianSNP minority
MorayCon minority
North AyrshireSNP minority
North LanarkshireSNP minority
Orkney IslandsInd-Grn coalition
Perth and KinrossSNP minority
RenfrewshireSNP minority
Scottish BordersCon-ind. coalition
Shetland IslandsIndependent Majority
South AyrshireCon minority
South LanarkshireLab-LD-ind. minority
StirlingLab minority
West DunbartonshireLab majority
West LothianLab minority


Who pays for local government in Scotland?

Councils in Scotland are funded mainly through four sources: Scottish Government grants, service income, Non-domestic Rates, and Council Tax. The breakdown is as follows:

  • 66% of funding is from the Scottish Government Grant.
  • 19% of funding is raised through Council Tax.
  • 15% of funding is through Non-Domestic Rates on businesses.

Service income is treated separately, as this is only used for the stated purpose (for example, leisure services).

Check out this LGIU Scotland briefing to find out how the 2023-24 Scottish Government budget impacts local government in Scotland.

How much do councils spend and on what?

In 2021/2022, Councils in Scotland spent about £23 billion.

In 2022-23 the Local Government Settlement provides capital grants totalling £684.6 million. This includes £353.9 million previously announced for Health and Social Care integration, £174.5 million for continued delivery of the real Living Wage within Health and Social Care, £145 million for Additional Teachers and Support Staff and an extra £64 million revenue and £30 million of capital funding to support the expansion of Free School Meals.

How many people work for local government in Scotland?

In 2023, Quarter 3, 261,000 people were employed in Scottish Councils.

For context, employment in the devolved public sector was 537,700 in September 2022, meaning local Government and NHS employ the largest proportion of employees in the devolved public sector

Between September 2021 and September 2022, employment in the devolved public sector increased by 1.7% in local government.


How did local government evolve in Scotland?

Over the last millennium, Scottish society evolved from small, self-sufficient communities into our present democratic structures.

Feudalism was introduced by David I in the 12th century, who also founded burghs such as Stirling, Dunfermline, Perth and Edinburgh. The new royal burghs enjoyed trading privileges in return for providing the crown with tolls and duties. Gradually, they became more independent and formed early town councils. The first Royal Burghs were Berwick and Roxburgh, quickly followed by Edinburgh, Perth, Stirling, Dunfermline and Scone. By 1326, burghs were sending representatives to sit alongside the nobility and the senior clergy in the Scottish Parliament. By 1707 there were around 70 of these burghs. Nobles were also able to establish and own burghs from the early 13th century. Over 300 of these ‘burghs of barony’ were created between 1450 and 1846. In 1833, three acts of parliament (‘the Burgh Reform Acts’) were passed in order to enable the burghs to adapt to the changing needs of communities. These reforms included the established of Police Burghs and a duty to hold elections.

David I also expanded the system of ‘shires’, or sheriffdoms. The word ‘shire’ remained in usage until 1889, when control of the shires was taken over by county councils. Meanwhile, parish councils were abolished in 1930 and their powers transferred to the county councils. Also in 1930, three classes of burgh were established with different powers.

During the 1960s, a Royal Commission reported that there were too many local authorities, with low public standing and with unequal resources. Following this, Scotland was divided into 9 regions and 53 districts, plus 3 unitary island authorities. Community councils were also introduced. Burgh councils were abolished.

Regional councils were accused of being too remote from the people and too expensive. In 1996, they were abolished and the district councils were aggregated into unitary councils – 32 including the island authorities.

You can read more about the history of Scottish local government on the Scotland’s Community Councillors website.