Friday 22 March 2013

The Highlands and London: lots of space vs. lots of people

I've been doing some work recently looking at local authority data from across the UK. One thing that always fascinates me about this is the differences between areas at a very basic level, such as the different sizes and populations of local authority and other sub-national areas. The two examples which always stand out in my mind are the Highland council area (because that's where I'm from) and Greater London (because it's so big and dynamic). The other reason the Highland council area stands out is because it is by far the biggest local authority in the UK. It's bigger than both Wales and Northern Ireland, yet it only has 232,000 people. London, on the other hand, would fit into the Highland council area about 20 times over yet it has 8.2 million people - as you can see from the map (click to enlarge - and see full screen here).

The map above shows Greater London and the Highland Council area mapped to the same scale, with London moved to the middle of the Highlands (not expecting this to become official Scottish Government policy any time soon, but you never know). Greater London is about 40 miles across but it is totally dwarfed by the Highlands. What is the relevance of all this? Well, it is interesting to think about this in the context of local government and the challenges they currently face.

Within Greater London you have 32 Boroughs plus the City of London all performing a variety of functions and in the whole of Scotland there are 32 Council Areas (which esteemed blogger Peter Matthews can list alphabetically off the top of his head). In the context of the ongoing fiscal crisis, there has been some talk of merging all local authorities in Scotland. I doubt it is going to happen but you never know. A Scotland on Sunday article on it from late 2012 seems to suggest there is some truth to the idea.