Local government facts and figures: Scotland
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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
|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||Gerry Cornes||Jan-2009|
|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||Cleland Sneddon||Sep-19|
|Stirling Council||Carol Beattie||Mar-19|
|West Dunbartonshire Council||
|West Lothian Council||Graham Hope||Sept-10|
|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?
|Aberdeen City||SNP-LD coalition|
|Argyll and Bute||LD-Con-ind. coalition|
|Comhairle nan Eilean Siar||Independent majority|
|Dumfries and Galloway||SNP-Lab-LD-Ind coalition|
|East Ayrshire||SNP minority|
|East Dunbartonshire||SNP minority|
|East Lothian||Lab minority|
|East Renfrewshire||Lab-ind. minority|
|North Ayrshire||SNP minority|
|North Lanarkshire||SNP minority|
|Orkney Islands||Ind-Grn coalition|
|Perth and Kinross||SNP minority|
|Scottish Borders||Con-ind. coalition|
|Shetland Islands||Independent Majority|
|South Ayrshire||Con minority|
|South Lanarkshire||Lab-LD-ind. minority|
|West Dunbartonshire||Lab majority|
|West Lothian||Lab minority|
Who pays for local government in Scotland?
Scottish councils are given a block grant from the Scottish Government, which amounts to around 85% of their net revenue expenditure. The remainder of their expenditure is funded mostly from local taxation.
How much do councils spend and on what?
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?
Of the 537,700 devolved public sector headcount, local government is the largest employer with 260,000 employees, followed by the NHS (180,300). 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.