Following the elections in May 2023, there are 91 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.
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 were 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 did 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.
Since the 2023 elections, this number has increased to 91 councils in No Overall Control – our table below highlights those councils in NOC and which party holds the largest number of seats. In the days following election, and sometimes until the end of May, negotiations take place among elected councillors as which parties will form a ruling coalition. As of writing (9 May 2023), we are not currently collating this information.
|Council||Pre-election control||2023 outcome||NOC Largest Party||Region|
|Arun||CON min||NOC||CON||South East|
|Ashford||CON min||NOC||CON||South East|
|Babergh||IND/LD/GRN||NOC||GRN||East of England|
|Basingstoke and Deane||CON min||NOC||CON||South East|
|Bolton||CON min||NOC||LAB||North West|
|Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole||CON min||NOC||LD||South West|
|Brentwood||CON||NOC||LD/CON Tie||East of England|
|Broadland||CON||NOC||CON||East of England|
|Cannock Chase||CON||NOC||CON||West Midlands|
|Castle Point||CIIP/PIP||NOC||IND||East of England|
|Central Bedfordshire||CON||NOC||IND||East of England|
|Cheshire East||LAB/IND||NOC||CON||North West|
|Colchester||LD/LAB/GRN||NOC||CON||East of England|
|Darlington||CON min||NOC||LAB||North East|
|Derby||CON min||NOC||LAB||East Midlands|
|Derbyshire Dales||NOC||NOC||LD||East Midlands|
|East Devon||IND/LD/GRN||NOC||IND||South West|
|East Hampshire||CON||NOC||CON||South East|
|East Hertfordshire||CON||NOC||GRN||East of England|
|East Lindsey||CON||NOC||CON||East Midlands|
|East Riding of Yorkshire||CON||NOC||CON||Yorkshire and The Humber|
|East Suffolk||CON||NOC||GRN||East of England|
|Folkestone and Hythe||CON/GRN/LD/IND||NOC||LD||South East|
|Forest of Dean||IND/GRN||NOC||GRN||South West|
|Great Yarmouth||CON||NOC||CON||East of England|
|Hertsmere||CON||NOC||CON||East of England|
|Hyndburn||LAB min||NOC||LAB/CON||North West|
|Kings Lynn and West Norfolk||CON||NOC||CON||East of England|
|Maldon||CON/IND/LD||NOC||IND||East of England|
|Malvern Hills||IND/LD||NOC||IND||West Midlands|
|Mid Sussex||CON||NOC||LD||South East|
|Milton Keynes||LAB/LD||NOC||LAB||South East|
|Newark and Sherwood||CON||NOC||CON||East Midlands|
|North Hertfordshire||LAB/LD||NOC||LAB||East of England|
|North Somerset||IND/LD/LAB/GRN||NOC||CON||South West|
|North Warwickshire||CON||NOC||CON||West Midlands|
|North West Leicestershire||CON||NOC||LAB||East Midlands|
|Peterborough||CON min||NOC||CON||East of England|
|Portsmouth||LD min||NOC||LD||South East|
|Redcar and Cleveland||IND/LD||NOC||North East|
|Ribble Valley||CON||NOC||CON||North West|
|Rochford||NOC||NOC||CON||East of England|
|Sheffield||LAB/LD/GRN||NOC||LAB||Yorkshire and The Humber|
|South Gloucestershire||CON||NOC||CON||South West|
|South Kesteven||CON||NOC||CON||East Midlands|
|Southend-on-Sea||LAB/IND/LD||NOC||CON||East of England|
|Spelthorne||CON min||NOC||CON||South East|
|Stafford||CON min||NOC||CON||West Midlands|
|Staffordshire Moorlands||CON||NOC||LAB||West Midlands|
|Stockport||LD min||NOC||LD||North West|
|Stockton-on-Tees||LAB min||NOC||CON||North East|
|Tandridge||IND min||NOC||IND||South East|
|Tendring||CON/IND||NOC||CON||East of England|
|Tonbridge and Malling||CON||NOC||CON||South East|
|Tunbridge Wells||LD/IND/LAB||NOC||LD||South East|
|Welwyn Hatfield||CON||NOC||CON||East of England|
|West Devon||CON||NOC||CON||South West|
|West Lindsey||CON min||NOC||LD||East Midlands|
|West Oxfordshire||LD/LAB/GRN||NOC||LD||South East|
|West Suffolk||CON||NOC||CON||East of England|
|Wirral||LAB min||NOC||LAB||North West|
|Worcester||CON min||NOC||LAB||West Midlands|
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