Devolution and Layers of Government in the UK

In our experience, there remains significant confusion over how to deal with the development of devolution in the UK.

Businesses and third sector organisations have not yet fully adapted to the new reality of domestic legislation being passed for 15% of the population away from London. However, what is even more noticeable is the apparent failure in many cases to grasp that devolved legislatures also have other functions exercised in England at different levels.

This table may help:




Local Services


Social Services




Foreign Policy

England – London

Borough Council London Mayor UK Parliament
England – Rural

District Council

County Council

UK Parliament

England – Urban

Unitary Authority

UK Parliament


Regional Council

Scottish Parliament

UK Parliament


Local Authority

National Assembly

UK Parliament

Northern Ireland

District Council NI Assembly

UK Parliament

This is not perfect, of course. The precise boundaries vary from place to place, for example:

  • some more “rural” parts of England still have “Unitary Authorities“;
  • the precise division between local services and domestic policy varies slightly from place to place;
  • district councils in NI have comparatively few powers (thus the NI Assembly takes on comparatively more services);
  • fewer powers are devolved to the National Assembly in Wales than to the Scottish Parliament or NI Assembly; and
  • some powers are devolved in Scotland but not Northern Ireland (e.g. tax-raising powers), whereas others are devolved in Northern Ireland by not in Scotland (e.g. employment).

Essentially, however, this does demonstrate there are, below Europe, four basic levels of government – but no part of the UK experiences more than three of them. With that as a starting point, the whole thing becomes much easier to understand – and access.

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