England & Wales, Northern Ireland Democracy, devolution and governance

Who runs the councils in No Overall Control?


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English local elections will be held on the 4 May. As of March there are 75 councils across England in “No Overall Control”.  Ingrid Koehler and Greg Stride look at what this means in practice. This post is part of LGIU’s one-stop shop for local elections coverage, analysis and support. We will update this page once we have the election results. Make sure you’re registered with us so you get election updates – including our ever popular local elections “Ones to Watch” 

What does NOC mean in practice?

So what does it mean to be a NOC council? As you might expect, it’s a little different in each council area. Some councils have a minority administration often because one party has half or close to half of the seats and they are the largest party. In other places coalitions are formed where the political flavour is a little more evenly distributed. In some councils, the largest political party is unable to form a minority administration because a coalition of smaller parties has banded together. Across these different possibilities we see a range of governance options.

In practice, NOC councils can work really well and help politicians come together around local issues without spending too much time on party political issues. In other NOC councils, there is constant political jostling.

When councils mainly operated under committee systems, some councils had rotating chairs and power was genuinely shared. Most councils now have Cabinet systems and decisions are made by the executive rather than in committees. And this is why councils with a Leader and Cabinet model want clear majorities and there can be a scramble for power when the political balance is fine. Effectively, though, once the leader has been chosen he or she can form a cabinet and get on with running the council, with only occasional need to go to the full council on things like budget setting.

Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive of LGIU:

“Councils in No Overall Control is a quirk of local authority governance that can be confusing for citizens. But it doesn’t mean that no one’s making decisions. In most cases one party will be able to form a cabinet, either with support from other parties or because the other parties do not agree on enough to effectively oppose them. That might sound unstable but in reality NOC councils have a pretty good track record of getting business done effectively.”

How is it calculated?

At the LGIU, we define a council as NOC if no single party holds 50%+1 of the seats.

England’s “first past the post” system for individual wards tends to favour bigger parties so it’s often easier for local party machinery to get out candidates in all wards and depending on the flavour of local politics have one party or another in charge. Most of England’s councils are majority run and some councils are or nearly are a one party state, for example Lewisham in London or Manchester which has over 90 Labour councillors and only a few Liberal Democrats.

Where alternative voting systems are used, such as in Scotland or Northern Ireland, multiple parties often win considerable numbers of seats. In Northern Ireland, by design it’s very difficult for any single party to have a majority administration – none of the 11 Northern Ireland districts with elections in 2023 have a single party majority. The single transferrable vote (STV) system encourages multi-party ward representation so to gain an all-out majority means that not only must one party do really well across all wards, other parties must not also do consistently well as a 2nd or 3rd choice.

Councils with No Overall Control in England up for election this year

There are 230 councils in England holding elections this year. Unfortunately, there is no central data source collecting information on all council seats, vacancies or control, so we have made use of the excellent data collected at Open Council Data UK. The numbers here are correct as of 16/03/2023 using our definition of No Overall Control mentioned above.

Of the 230 councils holding elections, 75 of them do not currently have a party with 50%+1 seats. 49 of these are holding all-council elections, meaning that the party composition could change substantially after the election. The other 26 are holding elections in only a third of their seats.

Lancaster City Council is the council furthest away from any single party forming a majority. The council has 60 seats in total, but the largest party (Labour) only has 16.

On the other hand, there are 10 councils where only one seat has to flip to the largest party to give them an overall majority. In most of these the largest party is far and away the biggest and the other parties are only just preventing them from forming a majority alone, but one of them – Gravesham Borough Council in Kent – is on a knife edge between Labour and the Conservatives. Out of 44 total seats, the Conservatives have 21 and Labour 22. They will definitely be one of our ‘ones to watch’ this year’.

English Councils moving in and out of No Overall Control

North Kesteven District CouncilCON/INDDistrict
Boston Borough CouncilCON minDistrict
South Derbyshire District CouncilLAB minDistrict
High Peak Borough CouncilLAB minDistrict
West Lindsey District CouncilCON minDistrict
Mansfield District CouncilLAB MayorDistrict
Rutland County CouncilCON/IND/GRNUnitary
Broxtowe Borough CouncilLAB/LD/INDDistrict
Derby City CouncilCON minUnitary
Maldon District CouncilCON/IND/LDDistrict
Mid Suffolk District CouncilCON/INDDistrict
Rochford District CouncilCON minDistrict
Tendring District CouncilCON/INDDistrict
Babergh District CouncilIND/LD/GRNDistrict
Bedford Borough CouncilLD MayorUnitary
North Hertfordshire District CouncilLAB/LDDistrict
Colchester Borough CouncilLD/LAB/GRNDistrict
Southend-on-Sea City CouncilLAB/IND/LDUnitary
Peterborough City CouncilCON minUnitary
Middlesbrough CouncilIND MayorUnitary
Hartlepool Borough CouncilCON/INDUnitary
Darlington Borough CouncilCON minUnitary
Stockton-on-Tees Borough CouncilLAB minUnitary
Redcar & Cleveland CouncilIND/LDUnitary
South Ribble Borough CouncilLAB minDistrict
Hyndburn Borough CouncilLAB minDistrict
Cheshire West and Chester CouncilLAB minUnitary
West Lancashire Borough CouncilLAB minDistrict
Blackpool CouncilLAB minUnitary
Stockport Metropolitan Borough CouncilLD minMetropolitan
Wirral Metropolitan Borough CouncilLAB minMetropolitan
Bolton Metropolitan Borough CouncilCON minMetropolitan
Burnley Borough CouncilLAB/LDDistrict
Lancaster City CouncilGRN/INDDistrict
Cheshire East CouncilLAB/INDUnitary
Gravesham Borough CouncilLAB minDistrict
Crawley Borough CouncilLAB/INDDistrict
Wokingham Borough CouncilLD/LAB/INDUnitary
Hart District CouncilIND/LDDistrict
Chichester District CouncilCON minDistrict
Guildford Borough CouncilIND/LDDistrict
Rother District CouncilIND/LD/LABDistrict
Milton Keynes CouncilLAB/LDUnitary
Portsmouth City CouncilLD minUnitary
South Oxfordshire District CouncilLD/GRNDistrict
Spelthorne Borough CouncilCON minDistrict
Surrey Heath Borough CouncilCON minDistrict
Ashford Borough CouncilCON minDistrict
Elmbridge Borough CouncilIND/LDDistrict
Folkestone and Hythe District CouncilCON/GRN/LD/INDDistrict
Swale Borough CouncilLAB/IND/LD/GRNDistrict
West Oxfordshire District CouncilLD/LAB/GRNDistrict
Arun District CouncilCON minDistrict
Canterbury City CouncilCON minDistrict
Brighton & Hove City CouncilGRN minUnitary
Lewes District CouncilLD/GRN/LAB/INDDistrict
Tandridge District CouncilINDDistrict
Tunbridge Wells Borough CouncilLD/IND/LABDistrict
Waverley Borough CouncilIND/LD/LAB/GRNDistrict
Thanet District CouncilCON minDistrict
Basingstoke & Deane Borough CouncilCON minDistrict
Plymouth City CouncilCON minUnitary
Torbay CouncilLD/INDUnitary
East Devon District CouncilIND/LD/GRNDistrict
Mid Devon District CouncilCON/INDDistrict
Teignbridge District CouncilLD minDistrict
Torridge District CouncilINDDistrict
Forest of Dean District CouncilIND/GRNDistrict
North Somerset CouncilIND/LD/LAB/GRNUnitary
Bournemouth, Christchurch & Poole CouncilCON minUnitary
Wyre Forest District CouncilIND/LD/LAB/GRNDistrict
Worcester City CouncilCON minDistrict
Malvern Hills District CouncilIND/LDDistrict
Stafford Borough CouncilCON minDistrict
Stoke-on-Trent City CouncilCON minUnitary
Warwick District CouncilCON/INDDistrict
York City CouncilLD/GRNUnitary
Sheffield City CouncilLAB/LD/GRNMetropolitan
Herefordshire CouncilIND/GRNUnitary

LGIU’s full elections resources – updated every week

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Local elections 2023