Helping you understand Welsh law

Local government bodies in Wales

Unitary authorities in Wales

Wales’ 22 unitary authorities (county and county borough councils – also known as ‘principal councils’) deliver a wide range of services. Some, for example education, they are required by law to make available; others are provided at the discretion of individual authorities. A typical list of local authority services includes:

  • planning and building control
  • education
  • trading standards
  • alcohol, entertainment and gambling licensing
  • health and safety
  • libraries, leisure and tourism
  • environmental health, refuse and recycling
  • transport and highways
  • housing
  • social services.

While the history of local government in Wales stretches back at least to the 16th century, the existing 22 Welsh single-tier, unitary authorities date from 1996 having been established by the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994. They are not divided into county and district councils, as local authorities are in much of England. On a more local level, community and town councils provide services in their immediate areas.

All local authorities are democratically accountable through elections held every 4 years. Local authorities have a cabinet style executive with the dominant political group or coalition making decisions under the scrutiny of the council as a whole. They employ large numbers of staff headed by a chief executive, who works with other senior officers on day-to-day business and decision-making.

The unitary authorities in Wales are:

  • Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council
  • Bridgend County Borough Council
  • Caerphilly County Borough Council
  • Cardiff Council
  • Carmarthenshire County Council
  • Ceredigion County Council
  • Conwy County Borough Council
  • Denbighshire County Council
  • Flintshire County Council
  • Gwynedd Council
  • Isle of Anglesey County Council
  • Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council
  • Monmouthshire County Council
  • Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council
  • Newport City Council
  • Pembrokeshire County Council
  • Powys County Council
  • Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council
  • City and County of Swansea
  • Vale of Glamorgan Council
  • Torfaen County Borough Council
  • Wrexham County Borough Council

The Welsh Government has announced that it intends to make changes to the way local authorities in Wales operate, including reducing the number of authorities, as part of a wider public service reform agenda.  

All unitary authorities in Wales are members of the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA). The WLGA represents their collective views and interests and advises and supports individual authorities.

Community and town councils in Wales

Community and town councils are the grassroots level of local governance in Wales. There are 735 community and town councils throughout Wales. Some represent populations of fewer than 200 people, others populations of over 45,000 people. Their purpose is to improve the quality of life and environment for citizens in their area.

Community and town councils are accountable to local people and have a duty to represent the interests of the different parts of the community equally.

National Park Authorities in Wales

The three National Park Authorities in Wales are:

  • Snowdonia National Park
  • Brecon Beacons National Park
  • Pembrokeshire Coast National Park

The statutory purposes and duty of National Parks are set out in the Environment Act 1995.

Their statutory purposes are:

  • to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the National Park
  • to promote opportunities for public enjoyment and understanding of the special qualities of the National Park

Their statutory duty is to foster the economic and social well-being of communities living within the National Park.

The three Welsh National Park Authorities work in partnership as National Parks Wales (NPW). NPW provides National Park Authorities with the means of identifying issues of joint interest and agreeing outputs.  Information and experiences are shared between colleagues, policy makers, local communities within the National Parks and visitors to these protected areas.

Fire and Rescue Authorities in Wales

The three Fire and Rescue Authorities in Wales are:

  • North Wales Fire and Rescue Authority
  • Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Authority
  • South Wales Fire and Rescue Authority

Their responsibilities and duties are principally governed by the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004. This Act requires all fire authorities to make provision for fire fighting purposes, which not only means putting out fires but also includes protecting life and property from fire. It also makes provision for attending road traffic collisions and other emergencies as well as providing a statutory footing for undertaking community safety activities. Additionally, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 requires all fire authorities to enforce fire safety standards in a variety of commercial premises such as offices, shops, schools, factories, hospitals etc.

Responsibility for the three fire and rescue services in Wales was devolved in 2004. In accordance with the transfer of responsibilities the Welsh Government regularly produces the Fire and Rescue National Framework which sets out priorities and objectives for fire and rescue in Wales.

Further information on Fire and Rescue Authorities in Wales can be found here.

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