Local democracy

How local democracy works

You told us you wanted to know more about how local government works. Here you will find lots of information about the different tiers of local government, who does what, how to contact your local council and councillor, and how to have your say on local issues that matter to you.

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Watch our short film, which explains how local democracy works, what the County Council does and the role of councillors.


Who does what?

The structure of local government differs across the country, but most of West Sussex has what’s known as three tiers of local government. 

In West Sussex there are 158 town/parish councils, seven district/borough councils and the county council.  All these councils have different responsibilities but work together to deliver a range of services to the 880,000 residents of the county.

Find your district or borough council and your nearest town/parish council.

There are also eight MPs covering West Sussex. Who is my local MP?

West Sussex County Council is the eleventh largest local authority in England and has elections every four years. 

The last election was in May 2021, when 70 county councillors were elected to represent the residents of West Sussex.

The county council has a total budget of two billion pounds and provides around 80% of council services across West Sussex, including roads and travel, the Fire & Rescue Service, education and young people, adult social care, waste disposal and recycling, public health, registration, libraries and the Record Office.

All our work is shaped by Our Council Plan for 2021-2025. This sets out the priorities for the council over the next four years and the outcomes we want to achieve for people who live and work in West Sussex and our Annual Report for 2022/23 sets out our achievements and the challenges we’ve had to deal with.

The services other councils are responsible for include:

  • District/borough councils: environmental health, housing, leisure and amenities, street cleaning, tourism, waste/recycling collection and planning (although the county council has some planning responsibilities too).
  • Town and parish councils: allotments, bus shelters, cemeteries, community/village halls, some public open spaces like children’s playgrounds and sports fields, town/parish noticeboards and war memorial maintenance. They are statutory consultees for the county council and district/borough councils on things like planning applications and traffic calming.

In the areas of West Sussex where there are no parish or town councils (Crawley, Worthing, part of Adur and part of Horsham) the district/borough councils carry out the things town/parish councils do elsewhere.

Who is my county councillor?

West Sussex County Council has 70 councillors representing local areas (called divisions) of around 12,000 residents.

Councillors are elected for four years (unless they’re voted in at a by-election). In the 2021 elections over 240,000 people in West Sussex voted for their local county councillor. See the Council's website for details of the current political make-up of the Council, including a map. 

You can contact your local councillor for help or information on County Council services affecting you or the area you live in.

You can find your local county councillor by searching by postcode or political party, and you can also view photographs and biographies of all current county councillors.

In each councillor’s biography you can find a map of their division.

What do councillors do?

Councillors represent their area (known as a division), providing a link between the community and the county council by being an advocate for their local residents.

They do this by keeping themselves informed about issues affecting their community, by communicating with local people, attending events, dealing with questions and complaints and attending meetings of local organisations (including the other local councils in the area).

Some also hold surgeries where residents can raise issues with them.

Some county councillors are also councillors at district/borough and town/parish councils locally.

Could you be a councillor?  If you’d like to know more about the role of county councillors and how you could become a councillor, go to the 'become a county councillor' page on our website.



How does the county council work?

County Hall at Chichester

You can find out more about how the Council operates here

Elected councillors take policy and spending decisions and are accountable to residents.

The county council has a Cabinet, which is made up of up to 10 Conservative councillors (the majority political group). The Leader is Councillor Paul Marshall. The Cabinet take most of the major decisions within the priorities and budget set by the full County Council.

There are also various committees to manage other areas of council business, scrutiny committees that consider the decisions of the Cabinet, as well as full County Council meetings, which take place six times a year and are the main place for political debate for all 70 councillors.

County councillors also sit on the committees of outside bodies including harbour boards and the Sussex Police and Crime Panel.

The county council has an apolitical Chairman and Vice-Chairman.

It employs officers to give advice, implement decisions and undertake the day to day planning and management of the wide range of functions undertaken by the authority. 

Through its democratic structures, the county council enables local people to have their say in decision-making and to contribute, both individually and through representative organisations, to the making of policy and of decisions which impact on local communities.

It is publicly accountable, carrying out its business openly and transparently, with meetings in public, decisions taken in public and is open to public scrutiny.

See the Council’s Code of Governance for more information on the county council’s approach to good governance.

What goes on at council meetings?

You can watch live and archived webcasts of the full county council and most committee meetings.

They are fully indexed so you can find specific agenda items that interest you.

Copies of the agenda and reports for all formal meetings are published and available to the public. The public and press can attend all Council, Cabinet and committee meetings, apart from some exceptional circumstances where confidential information is discussed.

Have your say or find out more

There are many different ways you can get in touch and have your say.

These include taking part in consultations and surveys, petitioning the county council to raise issues of concern, commenting on Traffic Regulation Orders (TRO), suggesting topics for scrutiny committees to look at and joining our People’s Panel.

You can also have your say on Our Your Voice engagement hub.

Like all public bodies, the County Council is required to respond to Freedom of Information requests and has a system for dealing with comments, suggestions, compliments and complaints.

More details about how you can get involved are on our Have Your Say pages.

You can also sign up to receive eNewsletters from the county council. There are over 40 to choose from, including our most popular Residents’ eNewsletter, which keeps you up to date with news and vital information on services provided by the county council and our partners.

There are also eNewsletters on topics including Highways, Transport and Planning, Cycling and Walking in West Sussex, Recycling, extreme weather alerts, and one for county councillors called the Bulletin that you can subscribe to, which includes details of Council business including decisions and topics to be discussed at meetings open to the public.

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