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The metropolitan counties of England are counties that cover large urban areas, each with several metropolitan districts. The counties no longer have county councils, as they were abolished in 1986 with most of their functions being devolved to the individual districts or taken over by joint-boards.
The metropolitan counties are:
- Greater Manchester (Manchester, Bolton, Bury, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford, Wigan)
- Merseyside (Liverpool, Knowsley, Sefton, St Helens and Wirral)
- South Yorkshire (Sheffield, Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham)
- Tyne and Wear (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Gateshead, South Tyneside, North Tyneside, Sunderland)
- West Midlands (Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall, Wolverhampton)
- West Yorkshire (Leeds, Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Wakefield)
Greater London is sometimes considered to be a metropolitan county, although it was defined differently.
When first created, the metropolitan counties differed from their non-metropolitan (shire county) counterparts, in the allocation of powers between the county and district councils. The metropolitan districts had more powers than their non-metropolitan counterparts, with authority over things such as education, and consequently the metropolitan county councils played a lesser role.
The idea for creating administrative areas based upon the large conurbations outside London, was first mooted by the Redcliffe-Maud Report in the late 1960s. The report proposed the creation of three large "metropolitan areas" based upon the conurbations surrounding Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham.
The proposals of the report were radically altered when Edward Heath's Conservative came to power in 1970. The metropolitan areas were re-named metropolitan counties, and three new areas were added (Tyne and Wear, West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire). In their final form, the counties were also far smaller than in the original proposals.
The counties were innitially administered by elected Metropolitan County Councils (MCCs), which were meant to be strategic authorities that ran regional services such as transport, civil protection and strategic town and country planning . The MCCs functioned between 1974 and 1986. The last elections to the councils were held in May 1981.
Abolition of the county councils
Just a decade after they were established: the MCCs, and Ken Livingstone's Greater London Council had several high profile clashes with the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher. In 1983 the government published a White Paper entitled Streamlining the cities which proposed the abolition of the MCCs, together with the abolition of the Greater London Council (GLC), the government enacted the report in the Local Government Act 1985. And the MCCs and the GLC were abolished in 1986.
The government claimed that this was an efficiency measure. Although it is widely believed that they were abolished for political reasons, because all of the county councils were controlled by the Labour Party.
The assets, and many of the functions of the MCCs passed either to the metropolitan boroughs, or in some cases directly to the central government or its agencies.
The status today
The metropolitan counties are sometimes incorrectly referred to as "former metropolitan counties", although the county councils were abolished, the metropolitan counties still exist, both as legal administrative counties, and are also ceremonial counties (or geographic counties), they are also used in government statistics.
Despite the abolition of the MCCs, some local services are still run on a metropolitan county-wide basis, administered by joint-boards of the metropolitan boroughs, these include emergency services, public transport, (see Passenger Transport Executive), waste disposal and civil defence. These joint-boards are made up of councillors appointed by the boroughs.
In the 1990s many of the counties which were created in 1974 such as Avon, Cleveland and Humberside were abolished completely due to their unpopularity. However the metropolitan counties were judged to be a success and were retained in their post-1986 form.
The abolition of the GLC was extremely controversial, but the MCCs less so. In 1997 Tony Blair's new Labour government legislated to restore a successor body to the GLC: the Greater London Authority. Despite some talk of doing so, no bodies have been established to replace the MCCs. The Blair government instead persued the idea of elected regional governments although this idea now looks dead.
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