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The districts of England are a level of subnational division of England used for the purposes of local government. As the structure of local government in England is not uniform, there are currently four principal types of district-level subdivision. They are London boroughs, metropolitan district, non-metropolitan districts, and unitary authorities. The City of Londonmarker and the Isles of Scillymarker are also districts, but do not correspond to any of these categories. Some districts are styled as boroughs, cities, or royal boroughs; these are purely honorific titles, and do not alter the status of the district. All boroughs and cities, and a few districts, are led by a Mayor who in most cases is a ceremonial figure elected by the council, but – after local government reform – is occasionally a directly elected mayor who takes most of the policy decisions instead of the council.

History

The first local government districts were created in 1894 by the Local Government Act 1894 which created Urban districts and Rural districts as sub-divisions of Administrative counties (which had been created in 1889). Another reform in 1899 created 28 metropolitan boroughs as sub-divisions of the County of London.

The setting down of the current structure of districts in England began in 1965, when Greater London and its 32 London boroughs were created. They are the oldest type of district still in use.

In 1974, metropolitan counties and non-metropolitan counties (also known as 'shire counties') were created across the rest of England and were spilt into Metropolitan district, and Non-metropolitan districts.

The status of the London boroughs and metropolitan districts changed in 1986, when they absorbed the functions and some of the powers of the metropolitan county councils and the Greater London Council which were abolished. In London power is now shared again, albeit on a different basis, with the Greater London Authority.

During the 1990s a further kind of district was created, the unitary authority, which combined the functions and status of county and district.

Types

There are 36 metropolitan districts, 32 London boroughs, 201 non-metropolitan districts, 55 unitary authorities, the Isles of Scillymarker, and the City of Londonmarker, making a total of 326 district-level authorities.

Metropolitan districts

Metropolitan districts (or metropolitan boroughs) are a subdivision of a metropolitan county. These are similar to unitary authorities, as the metropolitan county councils were abolished in 1986. Most of the powers of the county councils were devolved to the districts but some services are run jointly by joint boards and organisations. The districts typically have populations of 174,000 to 1.1 million.

Non-metropolitan district (shire district)

Non-metropolitan districts (also known as shire districts) are second-tier authorities, which share power with county councils. They are subdivisions of shire counties and the most common type of district. The districts typically have populations of 25,000 to 200,000.

Where this two-tier system exists, the county councils are responsible for running some local services, such as education, social services, and roads. District councils run other services, such as waste collection, local planning, and council housing.

The number of non-metropolitan districts has varied over time. Initially there were 296; after mergers in the 1990s their numbers were reduced to 238.

Unitary authorities

These are single-tier districts which are responsible for running all local services in their areas, combining both county and district functions. They were created in the mid-1990s out of non-metropolitan districts, and often cover large towns and cities as this is deemed to be more efficient than a two-tier structure. In addition, some of the smaller counties such as Rutlandmarker, Herefordshiremarker and the Isle of Wightmarker are unitary authorities. There are a total of 46 unitary authorities, with a further 9 due to be introduced in 2009.

Unitary authorities are actually a slightly modified type of non-metropolitan district; most are established as individual counties containing a single district, with a district council but no county council. Berkshire is unusual, being a non-metropolitan county with no county council and six unitary authority districts, and the Isle of Wight is a non-metropolitan county council with no districts. In practice, these function in the same way as other unitary authorities.

London boroughs

The London boroughs are sub-divisions of Greater Londonmarker. They were established in 1965. Between 1965 and 1986 a two-tier structure of government existed in Greater London and the boroughs shared power with the Greater London Council (GLC). When the GLC was abolished in 1986 they gained similar status to the unitary authorities. In 2000 the Greater London Authority was established and a two-tier structure was restored, albeit with a change to the balance of powers and responsibilities.

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