England & Wales, Scotland Democracy, devolution and governance

Who runs the councils in No Overall Control?


<a style="background-color:black;color:white;text-decoration:none;padding:4px 6px;font-family:-apple-system

Before the local elections on 5 May there were 66 councils across England, Scotland and Wales were in “No Overall Control”. Some councils have moved in and out of NOC but the figure remains the same post-election.  Ingrid Koehler looks at what this means in practice. This post is part of LGIU’s one-stop shop for local elections coverage, analysis and support and was updated 12 May.


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.

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 Scotland, by design, it’s very difficult for any single party to have a majority administration – for example only 3 out of 32 do coming into these 2022 elections. 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

Of those councils holding elections in England this year 25 were in No Overall Control. Given that – with the exception of Havering – all of these councils had only one third of their seats up for election, there was unlikely to be dramatic changes of control across most of them. Nevertheless five of the councils did move to majority control. Crawley, Kirklees, Rossendale and Worthing were all taken by Labour, with the Lib Dems claiming Woking.

And some councils went the other way, with both the Conservatives and Labour losing councils in the South East to No Overall Control. Labour lost Hastings and the Conservatives lost Huntingdonshire, Maidstone, West Oxfordshire, Wokingham and Worcester.

So what does this mean for political control across the NOC councils? Well for some no change probably. Burnley, for example saw only one seat change hands in this set of elections – from Ukip to the Greens – so chances are the minority Labour administration can carry on as before.

But in Colchester, where there had been a Conservative-Independent coalition, the tories lost four seats and the independents lost 1 to the Lib Dems, Labour and the Greens. So negotiations over who forms the administration are likely.

English Councils moving in and out of No Overall Control

CouncilControl - before MayControl - after May
Bolton Metropolitan Borough CouncilNOCNOC
Burnley Borough CouncilNOCNOC
Castle Point Borough CouncilConservativeNOC
Colchester Borough CouncilNOCNOC
Crawley Borough CouncilNOCLabour
Derby City CouncilNOCNOC
Elmbridge Borough CouncilNOCNOC
Hart District CouncilNOCNOC
Hartlepool Borough CouncilNOCNOC
Hastings Borough CouncilLabourNOC
Huntingdonshire District CouncilConservativeNOC
Hyndburn Borough CouncilNOCNOC
Kirklees Metropolitan Borough CouncilNOCLabour
London Borough of CroydonLabourNOC
London Borough of HaveringNOCNOC
Maidstone Borough CouncilConservativeNOC
Milton Keynes CouncilNOCNOC
North Hertfordshire District CouncilNOCNOC
Peterborough City CouncilNOCNOC
Plymouth City CouncilNOCNOC
Portsmouth City CouncilNOCNOC
Rossendale Borough CouncilNOCLabour
Sheffield City CouncilNOCNOC
Southend-on-Sea Borough CouncilNOCNOC
Stockport Metropolitan Borough CouncilNOCNOC
Tandridge District CouncilNOCNOC
Tunbridge Wells Borough CouncilNOCNOC
West Lancashire Borough CouncilNOCNOC
West Oxfordshire District CouncilConservativeNOC
Wirral Metropolitan Borough CouncilNOCNOC
Woking Borough CouncilNOCLiberal Democrat
Wokingham Borough CouncilConservativeNOC
Worcester City CouncilConservativeNOC

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

Local elections in Scotland are run using the Single Transferrable Vote (STV) system which encourages multi party representation in each ward making it much harder for any single party to have overall control of a council. Before this set of elections there was no party with a majority of seats in any mainland council. Following the elections two have move from NOC to majority control – Dundee was taken by the SNP and West Dunbartonshire by Labour.

With all parties except the Conservatives gaining seats across the country the big question now is who will be in coalition with who? (See our blog State of the Locals in Scotland for more detail.)

Scottish Councils moving in and out of No Overall Control

CouncilControl - before MayControl - after May
Aberdeen City CouncilNOCNOC
Aberdeenshire CouncilNOCNOC
Angus CouncilNOCNOC
Argyll and Bute CouncilNOCNOC
Clackmannanshire CouncilNOCNOC
Dumfries And Galloway CouncilNOCNOC
Dundee City CouncilNOCSNP
East Ayrshire CouncilNOCNOC
East Dunbartonshire CouncilNOCNOC
East Lothian CouncilNOCNOC
East Renfrewshire CouncilNOCNOC
Edinburgh City CouncilNOCNOC
Falkirk CouncilNOCNOC
Fife CouncilNOCNOC
Glasgow City CouncilNOCNOC
Highland CouncilNOCNOC
Inverclyde CouncilNOCNOC
Midlothian CouncilNOCNOC
Moray CouncilNOCNOC
North Ayrshire CouncilNOCNOC
North Lanarkshire CouncilNOCNOC
Perth And Kinross CouncilNOCNOC
Renfrewshire CouncilNOCNOC
Scottish Borders CouncilNOCNOC
South Ayrshire CouncilNOCNOC
South Lanarkshire CouncilNOCNOC
Stirling CouncilNOCNOC
West Dunbartonshire CouncilNOCLabour
West Lothian CouncilNOCNOC

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

Of those councils holding elections in Wales this year there were 11 in No Overall Control. Labour picked up Bridgend and Plaid Cymru gained three – Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Isle of Anglesey. But three councils also moved into No Overall Control: Merthyr Tydfil went from Independent control to NOC, Labour lost Neath Port Talbot and Monmouthshire went from the Conservative to NOC.

Welsh Councils moving in and out of No Overall Control

CouncilControl - before MayControl - After May
Bridgend County Borough CouncilNOCLabour
Carmarthenshire County CouncilNOCPlaid Cymru
Ceredigion County CouncilNOCPlaid Cymru
Conwy County Borough CouncilNOCNOC
Denbighshire County CouncilNOCNOC
Flintshire County CouncilNOCNOC
Isle of Anglesey County CouncilNOCPlaid Cymru
Merthyr Tydfil County Borough CouncilIndependentNOC
Monmouthshire County CouncilConservativeNOC
Neath Port Talbot County Borough CouncilLabourNOC
Pembrokeshire County CouncilNOCNOC
Powys County CouncilNOCNOC
Vale of Glamorgan County Borough CouncilNOCNOC
Wrexham County Borough CouncilNOCNOC