About the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (commonly known as the United Kingdom, the UK or Britain) is a sovereign state located off the north-western coast of continental Europe. The country includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that shares a land border with another sovereign state—the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border the UK is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea, the English Channel and the Irish Sea.
Each country of the United Kingdom has its own system of administrative and geographic demarcation, which often has origins that pre-date the formation of the United Kingdom itself. Consequently there is "no common stratum of administrative unit encompassing the United Kingdom". Until the 19th century there was little change to those arrangements, but there has since been a constant evolution of role and function. Change did not occur in a uniform manner and the devolution of power over local government to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland means that future changes are unlikely to be uniform either.
The organization of local government in England is complex, with the distribution of functions varying according to the local arrangements. Legislation concerning local government in England is decided by the UK parliament and the Government of the United Kingdom, as England does not have a devolved parliament. The upper-tier subdivisions of England are the nine Government office regions or European Union government office regions. One region, Greater London, has had a directly elected assembly and mayor since 2000 following popular support for the proposal in a referendum. It was intended that other regions would also be given their own elected regional assemblies but the rejection of a proposed assembly in the North East region, by a referendum in 2004, stopped this idea in its tracks. Below the region level England has either county councils and district councils or unitary authorities and London which consists of 32 London boroughs. Councillors are elected by the first-past-the-post system in single-member wards or by the multi-member plurality system in multi-member wards.
Local government in Scotland is divided on a basis of 32 council areas, with wide variation in both size and population. The cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee are separate council areas as is the Highland Council which includes a third of Scotland's area but just over 200,000 people. The power invested in local authorities is administered by elected councillors, of which there are currently 1,222 and are each paid a part-time salary. Elections are conducted by single transferable vote in multi-member wards that elect either three or four councillors. Each council elects a Provost, or Convener, to chair meetings of the council and to act as a figurehead for the area. Councilor’s are subject to a code of conduct enforced by the Standards Commission for Scotland. The representative association of Scotland's local authorities is the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA).
Local government in Wales consists of 22 unitary authorities. These include the cities of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport which are unitary authorities in their own right. Elections are held every four years under the first-past-the-post system. The most recent elections were held in May 2008. The Welsh Local Government Association represents the interests of local authorities in Wales.
Local government in Northern Ireland has, since 1973, been organised into 26 district councils, each elected by single transferable vote. Their powers are limited to services such as collecting waste, controlling dogs, and maintaining parks and cemeteries. On 13 March 2008 the executive agreed on proposals to create 11 new councils and replace the present system.The next local elections were postponed until 2011 to facilitate this.
The United Kingdom has sovereignty over seventeen territories which do not form part of the United Kingdom itself: 14 British Overseas Territories and three Crown Dependencies.
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