Why are there local elections most years in Milton Keynes but not all? Some answers to common questions about local government structure.
Political party activists can sometimes lose people with talk of district elections, county elections, unitary authorities, all up elections or thirds, and parishes. This tries to demystify some of these terms.
To find out how to register to vote or about what elections are happening in MK please go to the Milton Keynes Council website by clicking here.
Milton Keynes is a “unitary authority” which elects it’s councillors “by thirds”. What does this mean and how does it differ to other areas?
Milton Keynes is a “Unitary Authority” which means there is a single tier of local government between “parishes” and regional bodies (usually un-elected) and Central Government. This differs to County and District councils, with several districts being within a single county.
Within a Unitary Authority there will be elections to that body and the councillors elected will represent residents to look after, maintain and chase up the provision of all services provided by that tier of local government. Within counties there will be separate elections to Districts and Counties, and it is normally harder for residents to work out which council/councillors are responsible for what.
After the creation of the New City of Milton Keynes, the Local Government Act 1972 created a new “Milton Keynes District Council” within the existing Buckinghamshire County Council. In 1997 Milton Keynes became independent from Bucks County Council and became a new Unitary Authority.
While Milton Keynes is independent of Bucks County, it still continues under the Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Authority and some other bodies which follow the old county lines.
Some elected bodies (including the UK Parliament) elect all of their representatives at the same time, and that is know as “all up” elections. Many councils across the UK elect “by thirds” which leads to smaller incremental changes.
Following the last boundary review, Milton Keynes has 19 wards which each elect three city councillors. If elected a councillor will serve for four years until they need to face re-election. Electing by thirds means that there will be elections for every one of the first three years of each four year election cycle, with the fourth year being a “fallow year”. The result is if a councillor was elected to a ward in 2018, there will be elections for other councillors in 2019 and 2020 before they themselves need to seek re-election in 2022.
At the time of writing the last four year cycle started in May 2018, meaning elections in May 2019 and May 2020. There will then be a year without regular local elections in MK in 2021, followed by elections in May 2022, 2023 and 2024.
While no new boundary review is on the horizon, eventually with new building the existing wards will become unbalanced (too many voters in some seats compared to others) and MK will have another boundary review and all up elections. The last boundary changes and all up elections in MK were in May 2014.
An additional level of government which exists across much of the country are parish councils. These councils can have a range of names, such as “town councils” or “community councils”, however they are in effect the same things.
Milton Keynes is (apparently) unusual in being “fully parished”, which means the whole of Milton Keynes is covered by parish councils. In many areas of the country there will be gaps where parish councils don’t exist.
The powers of parish/town councils vary due to local circumstances, resources and relationships to other bodies. In MK parish councils will for example run the allotments (even if they’ve handed day to day running to a community group) and empty the dog mess bins. With council budget cuts by central government there has been talk of devolving more to parish councils. Some long running town councils (not in MK) where they own significant property and receive rents may do much more than the norm, with Aberystwyth being an example.
Elections to parish councils can sometimes occur, however it depends on the area. In some communities there is competition to become a parish/town councillor which can lead to frequent elections, while in others the parishes can have to work to fill all council seats, which means sometimes people are appointed without needing to run for election.