i) Lower Level (Electoral Ward/Division) Changes
Electoral wards/divisions are the building block of both administrative and electoral geography, as well as a basis for other geographies.
However, their boundaries change frequently: in some years several hundred electoral wards or divisions are affected, and in the extreme case of 2002 no fewer than 1,549 were changed.
This potential for change can have serious implications when trying to keep track of statistics over time, so it is essential that all those who collect and manipulate data are familiar with its occurrence.
Rationale for Boundary Change
The fundamental principle of ward/division organisation is electoral equality, meaning that within a higher administrative area, each elector's vote bears a similar weight.
As population sizes should be approximately equal and because people are constantly moving, so the boundaries need frequent review and alteration.
Process of Boundary Change
The review and definition of ward/division boundaries is carried out by different bodies in each country:
On 1 April 2010 the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE) took over the role of conducting reviews of local authority electoral arrangements from the Boundary Committee for England.
Changes can occur every year, usually on the first Thursday in May when local government elections take place.
Wards and divisions may also be affected by parish boundary changes, which can occur throughout the year.
The LGBCE works together with Local Authority Districts (LAD) to make recommendations for change.
The changes are finally specified in a Statutory Instrument (SI).
As well as boundary changes, recommendations may also include new wards/divisions, changes to the total number of councillors in a LAD, changes to the number of councillors representing each ward/division (multi-member wards are common in some administrations) and changes to the names of electoral areas.
Although population is the primary determinant, boundaries should be easily identifiable on the ground and thus often follow features such as rivers, major roads and railways.
Community identities should be taken into account, meaning that a smaller road may run through rather than delineate a ward/division.
In addition the boundaries of parishes and parish wards must be considered.
These factors mean that although electoral equality is the primary aim, in practice there can still be substantial variation of ward/division population size within a LAD.
The equivalent body in Wales is the Local Government Boundary Commission for Wales (LGBCW).
This has a similar remit to the LGBCE, but the National Assembly for Wales has responsibility for approving any recommendations.
Wales has electoral wards and communities (the Welsh equivalent of English parishes)
Electoral wards must however be based on community boundaries (or, where they exist, the community council electoral subdivisions known as community wards).
This means that if community boundaries change (as a result of a review by the relevant unitary authority), so must electoral division boundaries.
In practice however community boundary change is infrequent, thereby limiting the number of electoral division changes occurring between statutory reviews.
The responsible body in Scotland is the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland (LGBCS), which reports to the Scottish Government.
The LGBCS is also a permanent body but, as in Wales, it is rare for changes to occur between statutory reviews.
Accordingly the last nationwide changes were implemented in 1999, with only minor modifications since.
Unlike in England and Wales, multi-member wards are not permitted.
In addition, Scottish communities (which in any case are not defined by statute) have no influence on ward boundaries.
The responsible body in Northern Ireland is the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland.
Note though that this commission undertakes one review every 10 years or so and is disbanded during the intervening period.
ii) Higher Level Changes
As well as ward/division changes, the external boundaries of higher administrative areas can also be moved.
In Wales and Scotland changes are proposed by the LGBCW and LGBCS respectively.
In England the LGBCE will undertake reviews of higher administrative areas at the request of the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG), individual LADs and individual counties or on their own initiative.
Formal recommendations for change are made and presented to the Secretary of State.
The only exception to the above is for structural changes – that is, when an area changes from being two-tier local authority districts to single-tier unitary authorities. In this case the Secretary of State will ask the LGBCE to carry out a review.
The boundaries of the four constituent countries of the UK may not be changed.
From time to time much more substantial reviews of the whole local government structure are undertaken.
These can lead to major boundary changes, creation of new administrative areas and splitting, merging or abolition of others.
For more information on these processes, especially the changes resulting from the 1990s Local Government Reorganisation (LGR), see Related Links.