Which councils are up for election?

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The Independent Online
More than four-fifths of the electorate can vote in the local council elections today - which partly explains why national rather than local issues have dominated campaigning. It makes for one enormous opinion poll.

Only Londoners and Scots are excluded. The latter had their elections last month, while Londoners voted for their borough councillors a year ago.

Just over 12,000 council seats are being contested in England and Wales. The Conservatives have most to lose, with 3,728. Labour has 2,858 and the Liberal Democrats 1,992. Most of these seats are in the 274 English district councils outside the seven largest conurbations. In most, the entire council is being elected, but in 107 only one in three seats are up for election.

These district councils are responsible for housing, refuse collection, planning, environmental health and other functions - but not social services and education. These services are run by county councils outside the seven largest cities; the counties are not having elections this year.

In the great conurbations of Greater Manchester, the West Midlands, Merseyside, Tyneside and West and South Yorkshire - Labour's heartlands - one-third of the seats in 36 councils are being contested.

The picture is complicated by reforms in the structure of local government. In Wales, the two-tier structure of county and district councils is being erased, to be replaced by 22 "unitary" authorities covering the full range of local government functions. The voters will be choosing "shadow councils", which will take over on 1 April next year.

In the English shires a similar reorganisation is taking place - but only in a few areas and phased in over several years. There will be elections today for 14 new unitary councils including Bristol, the Isle of Wight, Middlesbrough and Hull.