UK Politics

Local elections 2019: How the BBC is reporting the results

On Thursday 2 May there will be elections for 248 English councils, six mayors and all 11 councils in Northern Ireland.

There are also elections to the European Parliament scheduled for Thursday 23 May, although these will not take place if Britain leaves the EU before that date.

Of the English councils up on 2 May, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool are among 33 metropolitan boroughs electing a third of their seats this year.

Thirty unitary authorities are electing all of their councillors and a further 17 are electing in thirds. The newly combined Dorset Council is the joint biggest, electing all 82 seats, along with Cheshire East.

The remaining 168 councils up for election are all district councils. 121 are electing all their councillors and 47 are electing in thirds.

Individual by-elections to fill a vacant seat on a council can take place at any time throughout the year and the BBC results service does not include these. Check your local council website for details.

The BBC also doesn't cover results of parish council elections or anything else below the level of local authority.

When are the local election results expected?

If you wake up at 06:00 on Friday 3 May, you will be able to find results for about 108 English councils on the BBC website. The remaining 140 are scheduled to come in throughout the day, mostly between midday at 18:00.

The Northern Irish ones will take a bit longer to come through because they have a more complicated voting system. More on that below.

If you're planning to stay up all night and follow the television coverage, we expect the first full councils to be declared at about midnight. One of either Swindon Council, or Halton in Cheshire, is expected to be first to declare its results.

The most active period is between 02:00 and 03:00 BST when more than 40 councils are expected to declare their results. This includes the big metropolitan councils of Liverpool and Leeds.

The BBC does not report the results of council by-elections or parish council elections. Check your local council website for details.

For the European elections, Britain will vote on Thursday 23 March, but votes won't start to be counted until polls have closed in the other 27 member states at 21:00 BST on Sunday 26 March.

What do 'NOC' and other abbreviations used in the results mean?

NOC: No overall control - no one party has a majority of seats on the council. Also referred to as a "Hung Council"

BRX: Brexit Party, set up by Nigel Farage.

CHUK: Change UK - The Independent Group, formed by former Labour and Tory MPs.

CON: Conservative

LAB: Labour

LD: Liberal Democrats

GRN: Green Party

UKIP: United Kingdom Independence Party

ICHC: Independent Community and Health Concern

RA: Residents Association

IND: Independent

OTH: Others - people representing parties not covered by any of the labels above

Why do some councils only have a third of seats up for election?

If your council elects in thirds, it means that a third of councillors are up for election every year over a four-year cycle, with one year when there are no elections. The councillors elected this year will serve a term of four years.

Some of the councils that elect in this way cannot possibly change overall control, because the existing majority for the controlling party is larger than the number of councillors they could lose.

Other local authorities hold an election every four years for all of their councillors.

All the council seats in Northern Ireland are up this year and the winners will sit a five-year term.

Councils which have had boundary changes usually elect all of their new councillors at once.

How is council control calculated in the local elections?

If a party has a majority of councillors on any particular council, it is deemed to be in control of that council.

If no one group has a majority it is described as "No Overall Control" (NOC) or "Hung".

So if there are 20 Labour councillors, 15 Conservatives and 10 Lib Dems in a council with 45 councillors, it is still NOC even though Labour has more councillors than any other party, because they can not out-vote the other parties.

Council control prior to the election is defined by the BBC, the Press Association (PA) and others as which party, if any, has a majority on the eve of the poll.

So if a council was won by the Conservatives in 2014, but then through defections and by-election losses became No Overall Control, in 2019 we would describe it as a Conservative gain should the party regain its majority.

How is seat change calculated?

Seat change is based on how many seats each party won at the previous comparable election, not what the seats were on the eve of the election.

For most of the seats up this year the previous election was in 2015, other than Northern Ireland which last elected in 2014.

In some councils, boundary changes come into force this year where councils are reorganised and the number of seats on the council changes.

In cases like this, the BBC uses "notional results" to project what the previous result would have been if the new boundaries had been in place at the last election.

The total number of seats per party will be slightly different 'at dissolution' - when the election campaign started - compared to those won at the last election, due to councillors defecting to other parties or losing seats in by-elections following resignations or deaths.

What are boundary changes and why do they happen?

Every now and then councils review whether they have too many or not enough councillors. This can be instigated either by the councils or by the Local Government Boundary Commission.

Councils also occasionally re-draw ward boundaries internally, without increasing or reducing the overall number of councillors. This could be to even up the populations in each ward in areas where new housing estates have popped up or where lots of people have left the area.

There are no strict rules on how many people should live in each ward, but if they are too unbalanced it means some votes are effectively less powerful than some others.

This year there have been a few merged councils. For example Bournemouth Council, Christchurch Council and Poole Council are now a single unitary authority called Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole.

Why are only some councils up for election?

There are different types of councils across the UK and they hold elections at different times.

All of London's councils held elections last year, and Wales and Scotland had their last elections in 2017. They will elect these seats again in 2022.

Northern Ireland will elect all of their councillors this year. The previous election there was in 2014 and the following one will be in 2024.

Everyone in the UK votes for their European Parliament representatives at the same time.

Who am I voting for in the local elections?

You vote for councillors in the ward you live in, who come together with councillors elected in the other wards in your council area to run the services the council is responsible for. Depending on where you live, you may have to vote for more than one candidate to represent your ward.

Wards are the smallest electoral division used in the UK. They vary in size substantially, but have an average electorate of around 5,500 people.

For the councils up this year, there is an average of 50 councillors per council.

The largest council up for election this year, Leeds, has 99 councillors across 33 wards, although just one councillor in each ward is up for election this year.

Richmondshire in North Yorkshire is the smallest council up this year. They are electing all 24 of their councillors, reduced from 34 last time around.

What about the mayoral elections?

There are six mayoral elections this year. The biggest is North of Tyne combined authority which encompasses Newcastle, Northumberland and North Tyneside.

Middlesbrough, Leicester, Mansfield, Bedford and Copeland are also electing mayors.

What do mayors do?

Directly elected council mayors are the political leaders of the council with overall responsibility for the delivery of services. In councils without a mayor, a leader will be appointed from the elected councillors.

Not all local authorities have a directly elected mayor. Whether or not they have one is decided by the authority itself, often after a local referendum.

The 'metro mayors' - or combined authority mayors - are different. The North of Tyne mayor will be the ninth person elected to head up a combination of local authorities.

London has had one since 2000 and six other areas, including Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham, elected mayors for the first time in 2017.

Their responsibilities differ, but the North of Tyne mayor will have control over a £600m investment fund intended to last 30 years. The stated aim of the fund is "to help grow the local economy so everyone can feel the benefit".

Why are there different electoral systems in different places?

In England and Wales councillors are elected using a first-past-the-post system, in which people have one vote for each seat and the candidate who receives the most in a given area is the winner. This is only different in European elections.

The 'area' is a ward - more on wards above. In most cases where councils elect in thirds, residents will only be voting for one new councillor each year.

If there is more than one councillor being elected per ward, voters can vote once for each position and the candidate with the second highest number of votes will also become a councillor, and so forth until all the positions are filled. Usually there are three councillors per ward.

Elections in Northern Ireland

All 462 councillor seats across the 11 Northern Irish councils are up for election this year. Belfast City Council has 60 councillors and all the others have 40, other than Newry, Mourne & Down and Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon which both have 41.

Northern Ireland elects using the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system for both local elections and European elections.

Instead of just picking a favourite candidate as in Westminster elections, voters can rank all the councillor candidates running in their District Electoral Area (DEA) in order of preference. It's still possible to vote only once if preferred.

If any candidate receives enough total votes after a round of voting they are awarded a seat on the council.

What 'enough total votes' means is calculated using something called the Droop Quota. Effectively this means you earn a seat if you earn at least one more vote than the total number of votes divided by the number of seats plus one.

After the first round the second preference votes of removed candidates are added to the totals of other candidates.

Candidates are removed either if they are above the quota or if they receive so few votes that it would impossible to catch the next lowest candidate even with all the surplus second preference votes.

If the second preference candidate has already been eliminated or is eliminated later on, the third preference votes are taken into account and so forth.

An example from 2014 might help. In Erne East DEA, part of the Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, there are six councillor seats. In 2014, 7,852 people cast valid ballots, so the Droop Quota number was 1,112, because that's 1+(7,852/(6+1)).

Paul Robinson and Victor Warrington both scored more than that with first preference votes, so were elected in the first round.

Fred Parkinson was eliminated because even if you added all the votes over the quota received by Paul Robinson and Victor Warrington to Mr Parkinson's 296 first preferences, he still wouldn't have caught up with the next lowest candidate, Kate Mulligan.

Those three candidates are no longer in the contest, so the second preference votes for those candidates are added to the first preference votes for the others. Doing this took Richie McPhilips over the quota, so he secured the third seat and his second preference votes were passed on to other candidates.

Despite adding all the other preference votes on over two further rounds, no other candidate was able to reach the quota. So the last three seats were filled by those three candidates left with the highest number of total votes.

What do councillors do?

In Northern Ireland, councils are responsible for delivering a great range of services including local planning and licensing, waste collection and enforcing safety regulations to do with food, workplaces and the environment. They also maintain public areas like parks, cemeteries and arts centres.

Non-metropolitan district councils in England, also known as shire districts, are usually also covered by a county council. The county council controls the most expensive services like education, public transport, policing and fire services. Most English county councils were up for election in 2017.

The services devolved to the district councils include setting and collecting council tax, bin collections, local planning and council housing.

Unitary authorities are responsible for providing all the services that the district and county councils would provide.

Metropolitan district councils are more similar to unitary authorities in terms of the services they look after, but typically sit in built-up city areas. Unitary authorities are usually made up of smaller towns and the less urbanised areas surrounding them. Bath & North East Somerset is one example.

Some councillors for the party which holds power within a council will have a specific brief, like the councillor responsible for health and social services. Some councillors representing parties who aren't in control will hold opposition briefs and put forward alternative policies at council meetings.

What's the EU election timetable?

Elections are scheduled for 23 May, but results will only be available from all 28 EU countries on the night of Sunday 26 May, after all the member states have voted.

The BBC will have a special coverage on the BBC News channel focussing on the UK results as they come in, and a different programme on BBC World News looking at the results from across the whole EU. You will also be able to find results on the BBC News website.

The UK currently provides 73 MEPs out of 751 in the European Parliament, the same number as Italy. France has 74 MEPs and Germany has 96.

If Britain leaves the EU before the election starts, the total number of MEPs will be reduced to 705 and a few countries will gain some extra members. France will go up by five to 79, for example, but Germany will stay the same.

If, as is the current schedule, a withdrawal agreement is agreed after the election and before 31 October, Britain's MEPs will return home and stop receiving a salary. The EU Parliament has no plans to then add the extra seats that would have otherwise been created at this election if the UK had left.

The financial details to do with British contributions to the EU budget and what the EU spends in Britain should all be covered by the withdrawal agreement.

Until Britain leaves the EU it will continue to pay into the EU budget, abide by EU rules and receive benefits in the same way as it does now.

How does the EU election work?

EU rules require all elections to the Parliament to be held using a form of proportional representation, meaning that the share of votes won by a party should be closely matched to the proportion of the seats they get. This isn't always the case with the first-past-the-post method used for UK general elections.

There are different forms of proportional representation in play across Europe, and in fact Northern Ireland elects its MEPs using a different system to the rest of the UK.

Northern Ireland uses the Single Transferable Vote (STV) method explained above, while the rest of the UK elects using the closed-list party list system.

In a closed-list system, voters each have one vote, for a party rather than a named individual. This is different from UK general elections when voters select a named candidate usually representing a party.

The number of seats each party wins in each region is proportional to the number of votes for each party, allocated using a system called D'Hondt. In turn, seats are allocated to Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and the nine English regions in relation to their population. The South East is the biggest with ten MEPs, Northern Ireland and the North East are the smallest with three.

What do MEPs do and what are the European parties?

Members of European Parliament are there to represent the interests of your region in Europe, by voting on laws and questioning and lobbying the European Commission and Council.

They sit and vote in groups with like-minded MEPs from the other member states, not necessarily with people from the same country.

For example, Labour MEPs sit with an Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, most Conservatives sit in a group called the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, and the one serving Liberal Democrat MEP sits with an Alliance of Liberals and Democrats.

Members of national parties don't have to sit in the same European grouping as one another, but most do.

Under EU rules these groups need to have at least 25 members, made up of MEPs from at least a quarter of EU member states (currently seven out of 28).

This means that some groups might not be able to re-form after the election, if they lose members from certain countries or go below 25 overall.

For our results, we'll be treating the groups as they are before the election and assuming that all MEPs from the same national party will sit in the same European groups until we know otherwise.