We are testing a new beta website for gov.scot go to new site

About local government in Scotland

Local government in Scotland comprises 32 unitary local authorities, responsible for the provision of a range of public services. Local authority areas reflect the geographical diversity within Scotland with wide variations in size (from 60km2 in Dundee City council area to 25,656km2 in Highland council area) and population (from under 20,000 people in Orkney Islands council area to over 600,000 in Glasgow City council area).

The current structure was the result of a reorganisation in 1996, the legislative basis for which was the Local Government etc (Scotland) Act 1994. The structure of local government in Scotland has evolved significantly since the mid-20th century.


Each local authority is governed by a council. The council is made up of councillors directly elected by the residents of the area they represent (referred to as a council ward). Each ward has three or four councillors. In total within Scotland, there are 1,227 elected councillors who are normally elected every 4 years. The normal pattern of local government terms has been altered to create three five-year terms (2007-12, 2012-17, 2017-22) in order to separate local government elections from elections to the Scottish Parliament.


Councils in Scotland operate independently of central government and are accountable to their electorates for the provision of services. Scottish Government works with local government and provides funding and the framework for accountability and performance.