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
|Council||Control - before May||Control - after May|
|Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council||NOC||NOC|
|Burnley Borough Council||NOC||NOC|
|Castle Point Borough Council||Conservative||NOC|
|Colchester Borough Council||NOC||NOC|
|Crawley Borough Council||NOC||Labour|
|Derby City Council||NOC||NOC|
|Elmbridge Borough Council||NOC||NOC|
|Hart District Council||NOC||NOC|
|Hartlepool Borough Council||NOC||NOC|
|Hastings Borough Council||Labour||NOC|
|Huntingdonshire District Council||Conservative||NOC|
|Hyndburn Borough Council||NOC||NOC|
|Kirklees Metropolitan Borough Council||NOC||Labour|
|London Borough of Croydon||Labour||NOC|
|London Borough of Havering||NOC||NOC|
|Maidstone Borough Council||Conservative||NOC|
|Milton Keynes Council||NOC||NOC|
|North Hertfordshire District Council||NOC||NOC|
|Peterborough City Council||NOC||NOC|
|Plymouth City Council||NOC||NOC|
|Portsmouth City Council||NOC||NOC|
|Rossendale Borough Council||NOC||Labour|
|Sheffield City Council||NOC||NOC|
|Southend-on-Sea Borough Council||NOC||NOC|
|Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council||NOC||NOC|
|Tandridge District Council||NOC||NOC|
|Tunbridge Wells Borough Council||NOC||NOC|
|West Lancashire Borough Council||NOC||NOC|
|West Oxfordshire District Council||Conservative||NOC|
|Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council||NOC||NOC|
|Woking Borough Council||NOC||Liberal Democrat|
|Wokingham Borough Council||Conservative||NOC|
|Worcester City Council||Conservative||NOC|
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
|Council||Control - before May||Control - after May|
|Aberdeen City Council||NOC||NOC|
|Argyll and Bute Council||NOC||NOC|
|Dumfries And Galloway Council||NOC||NOC|
|Dundee City Council||NOC||SNP|
|East Ayrshire Council||NOC||NOC|
|East Dunbartonshire Council||NOC||NOC|
|East Lothian Council||NOC||NOC|
|East Renfrewshire Council||NOC||NOC|
|Edinburgh City Council||NOC||NOC|
|Glasgow City Council||NOC||NOC|
|North Ayrshire Council||NOC||NOC|
|North Lanarkshire Council||NOC||NOC|
|Perth And Kinross Council||NOC||NOC|
|Scottish Borders Council||NOC||NOC|
|South Ayrshire Council||NOC||NOC|
|South Lanarkshire Council||NOC||NOC|
|West Dunbartonshire Council||NOC||Labour|
|West Lothian Council||NOC||NOC|
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
|Council||Control - before May||Control - After May|
|Bridgend County Borough Council||NOC||Labour|
|Carmarthenshire County Council||NOC||Plaid Cymru|
|Ceredigion County Council||NOC||Plaid Cymru|
|Conwy County Borough Council||NOC||NOC|
|Denbighshire County Council||NOC||NOC|
|Flintshire County Council||NOC||NOC|
|Isle of Anglesey County Council||NOC||Plaid Cymru|
|Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council||Independent||NOC|
|Monmouthshire County Council||Conservative||NOC|
|Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council||Labour||NOC|
|Pembrokeshire County Council||NOC||NOC|
|Powys County Council||NOC||NOC|
|Vale of Glamorgan County Borough Council||NOC||NOC|
|Wrexham County Borough Council||NOC||NOC|