Local elections: do they matter and should I care?

Local elections will be held across England, Wales and Scotland on 5th May 2022. These mean that councillors will be elected to county councils, unitary authorities, London boroughs and more. But why do local elections matter, what impact do they have and should you care?

What are local elections?

When we focus on elections in the UK, we mostly focus on general elections. These are elections held every five years that elect MPs to the House of Commons. The last general election was held in 2019. Local elections elect councillors to town, county and unitary councils. These are the people that make decisions on your local area.

The councils in England up for election were last contested in 2018, and so councils have a four-year term. At the last elections in 2018, UKIP were almost wiped-out, with the Conservatives picking up a lot of their seats, and Labour in turn picking up a lot of Conservative seats. This was in the midst of the Brexit debate, and so the political landscape has changed a lot in the meantime.

Why do local elections matter?

Local elections are important as they make decisions that impact your local area. These include powers such as:

  • Outdoor facilities (allotments, footpaths, bridleways)
  • Bin collection and litter
  • Youth projects
  • Public toilets
  • Street cleaning and lighting
  • Planning permission
  • Events
  • Libraries
  • Schools

So, if these issues matter to you, then make sure you register to vote if you’re over the age of 18 and a resident of the UK, Ireland or Commonwealth. The deadline to vote is 14th April.

What’s the impact of local elections?

A lot of people don’t take local elections seriously. The power to make meaningful change in the areas discussed above is limited. Some say that bins will always be collected, and road repairs will always be made no matter which party is in charge of your council. Other people see local elections as an ‘opinion poll’ on the current working of the sitting government, and so local councillors are elected on this basis.

Turnout at local elections is always low, rarely reaching above 40%:

  • 2019 elections: 33%
  • 2018 elections: 35%
  • 2017 elections: 35%
  • 2016 elections: 34%

Turnout at these elections is also expected to be very low, suggesting a high level of apathy towards local politics. Other factors can also affect voting turnout, such as the approval of the current national government, and approval of opposition parties. To learn more about how turnout affects participation, check out our revision notes on Democracy and Participation.

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Local Elections

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