England & Wales Democracy, devolution and governance

Who runs the councils in No Overall Control?

Authority boundaries courtesy OS

Before the  local elections on 6 May over 80 councils are in “No Overall Control”.  Ingrid Koehler looks at what this means in practice. This post is part of LGIU support and coverage for the 2021 Local Elections with more local government facts and figures here.

Council control maps show red for Labour run councils, yellow for Liberal Democrat, Blue for Conservatives and grey for “No Overall Control”.  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. All of the councils in Northern Ireland which were having elections in 2019 are – by design – “No Overall Control” and remained so, with only a slight shift in which parties had the most numbers of seats.

Before we headed into the last elections in 2019  just over 30 councils in England were No Overall Control – those elections saw a rise of independent candidates with a number of local independent groups taking majority control of councils and enough individual independent candidates elected and votes split across major parties to put many councils in NOC  Still most councils are run by a majority administration – meaning they have at least 50% + 1 of the council seats and are able to form an administration with members of their own party.

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 about 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, states:

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.

May 2021 elections and No Overall Control

Of those councils holding elections this year these are the councils currently in No Overall Control.


Original election year Organisation Type Electoral method Region Political control
2021 Nottinghamshire County All out East Midlands NOC (Con and Ind. coalition)
2021 Oxfordshire County All out South East NOC (Con and Ind. coalition)
2021 Gloucestershire County All out South West NOC (Con)
2020 North Hertfordshire District By thirds Eastern NOC (Lab)
2020 St Albans District By thirds Eastern Minority Lib Dem
2020 Colchester District By thirds Eastern NOC (Lib Dem)
2020 Welwyn Hatfield District By thirds Eastern NOC (Con)
2020 Basildon District By thirds Eastern NOC (Lab)
2020 Pendle District Whole council North West Lab + LD coalition
2020 Burnley District By thirds North West NOC (Lab)
2020 Basingstoke and Deane District Whole council South East NOC (Con)
2020 Tandridge District By thirds South East NOC
2020 Woking District By thirds South East Con minority
2020 Crawley District By thirds South East Noc (Lab)
2020 Elmbridge District By thirds South East NOC
2020 Hart District By thirds South East NOC (Ind & Lib Dem)
2020 Maidstone District By thirds South East NOC (Lib Dem)
2020 Gloucester District Whole council South West NOC (Con)
2020 Stroud District Whole council South West NOC (Lab)
2020 Nuneaton and Bedworth District By halves West Midlands NOC (Lab)
2020 Cannock Chase District By thirds West Midlands Lab coalition with Green
2020 Worcester District By thirds West Midlands NOC (Con)
2020 Stockport Metropolitan By thirds North West NOC (Lab)
2020 Bolton Metropolitan By thirds North West NOC (Con)
2020 Dudley Metropolitan By thirds West Midlands NOC (Con)
2020 Derby Unitary By thirds East Midlands Con minority
2020 Peterborough Unitary By thirds Eastern NOC (Con)
2020 Southend Unitary By thirds Eastern NOC (Lab)
2020 Hartlepool Unitary Whole council North East NOC
2020 Milton Keynes Unitary By thirds South East NOC (Lab)
2020 Portsmouth Unitary By thirds South East NOC (Lib Dem)