What are local elections and how do our local councils work?

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THOUSANDS of residents across parts of Hampshire are due to cast a vote in local council elections this Thursday and potentially change the way things are run in their area.

Despite often attracting just 30 per cent of potential voters some argue that these elections have even more of an impact on our lives than those held for national seats of power.

From things that affect us everyday such as rubbish collections and parking charges, to large scale decisions such as mammoth housing developments and town regenerations, we cannot avoid the work of our local councillors.

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But why are some councils bigger than others and why are some councils not holding elections this year?

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Within Hampshire two different styles of local government are in operation: two-tier authorities and unitary authorities.

In terms of operation two-tier authorities do exactly what they say on the tin, with one smaller council, a borough or district, working below a larger one - a county council.

Fareham, Gosport and Havant Borough Councils work under Hampshire County Council which is based in Winchester, as do East Hampshire District Council and Winchester City Council.

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This means that services are divided between themselves and Hampshire. The smaller councils typically deal with issues that are ‘closer to home’. These include waste collection, council tax, car parking, pavements and public toilets.

Hampshire County Council, on the other hand, is in charge of matters such as road maintenance, waste disposal and birth and death registration. Parish councils also operate below borough and district councils.

This year Havant Borough Council, East Hampshire District Council and Winchester City Council have seats up for election but Fareham and Gosport Borough Council, as well as Hampshire County Council, do not.

The reason for this is the way in which they operate their election systems. Havant and Winchester select councillors in thirds, meaning a third of seats are up for election every year for three years and with no elections on the fourth.

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Fareham and Gosport elect in halves - half of their seats every two years. East Hampshire and Hampshire, in contrast, hold elections for the entirety of their seats just once every four years.

Portsmouth City Council also holds its elections in thirds but is a unitary authority. It looks after everything that a county council and borough or town council would, but in one authority.

This includes everything from council tax to public toilets, roads, education and child and adult services.

It is thought that unitary authorities can be a more 'penny-wise' way of operating local government as everything is brought together, literally, under one roof.

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There should also be less confusion for residents about who to approach for certain problems as the council deals with everything.

As the council functions in a cabinet style, important areas are divided up for separate groups to discuss and are headed by a cabinet leader. Some of the cabinets include education, traffic and transport and environment and community safety.

Over the coming days The News will be exploring the issues facing each council in the area that is holding elections this week and introducing you to all your election candidates.

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