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How are councils structured?

Each of the 32 London boroughs* are divided into wards. Each ward is usually represented by three elected councillors. Elections are held every four years - the next one is due in 2014.

Unlike officers, who are paid employees of the council, councillors are not paid a salary. Councillors do, however, receive an allowance designed to recompense them for the work which they undertake.

Under the Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, each council (and its residents) must choose and implement one of two possible models for its political structure.

These are:

A leader and cabinet or executive

The council leader is elected by full council for four years. The council may include a provision allowing it to remove the leader during that term by resolution. The leader decides on the deputy leader, size of the cabinet and appoints cabinet members. The cabinet can be either single-party or a coalition. The mayoral function in these councils is a ceremonial role. This is the structure used by the majority of councils in London.

A directly-elected mayor and cabinet or executive

The mayor is directly elected by voters in the borough to serve for four years. He or she would then choose a cabinet of no more than 10 councillors. The cabinet members need not all be from the same political party. A directly-elected mayor has much more power than traditional, largely ceremonial, mayors. Four of London's councils have adopted this structure: Hackney, Lewisham, Newham and Tower Hamlets.*

Whichever structure is chosen, all councils must have at least one 'overview and scrutiny' committee, made up of councillors who are not cabinet members. Such committees, which have to reflect the political balance of the council, hold the executive to account by examining and questioning decisions made.

In addition, there are certain matters that councils are obliged by law to separate from the executive or directly-elected mayor. Issues such as staffing, auditing and licensing are dealt with by quasi-legal committees. These are not listed in this directory but details can be found on councils' own websites.

* The City of London has a unique structure, visit www.cityoflondon.gov.uk for more information

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