Whitehall officials are considering cancelling local council elections in England in 2007 so they can shake up local government. Here is a guide to town halls and how they could change.
Aren't all local councils in England the same?
There are major differences in who runs local services in different areas, with gaps between what happens in urban areas and the system in rural areas.
So what types of council are there?
- County councils: There are 34, working in mostly rural areas. Each county council area also has a number of district councils. The two tiers split the duties of local government between them. There are 238 district councils overall.
- Unitary authorities: There are 46 of these. They were created in the early 1990s, taking over the responsibilities of both district and county councils in their areas.
- Metropolitan boroughs: There are 36, covering Greater Manchester, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear, West Midlands and West Yorkshire. They are all-purpose authorities.
- London boroughs: The 32 London boroughs, along with the Corporation of the City of London, govern the capital city, although the Greater London Authority has city-wide responsibilities.
What happens in Scotland and Wales?
Scotland and Wales are both broken up into unitary authorities - 32 in Scotland and 22 in Wales.
What would be reformed?
The government is consulting on the idea of scrapping the two-tier county-district council system and forming a new wave of all-purpose unitary authorities.
Has anything been decided?
Ministers say it has not but they plan to produce a White Paper on local government this summer.
How does cancelling elections fit into all of this?
BBC News has learnt Whitehall officials have told council chiefs they are considering the idea to clear time for implementing complicated reforms. It would also avoid electing old-style councils for only a year before they are scrapped in favour of a new system.
When would the elections take place?
If the changes did go ahead there would be "shadow" elections in 2008, with the councillors taking charge of the new-style councils in 2009.
What do opposition parties make of the idea?
The Conservatives and Lib Dems say reform will be expensive and will not improve services. And they claim scrapping the elections would just be a way of avoiding embarrassing results for Tony Blair as he prepares to step down as prime minister.
What do ministers say about all this?
The Minister for Communities, David Miliband, says it is "pure speculation" to say the May 2007 elections could be cancelled. He says the government has not yet made decisions on the reforms and it intends to go ahead with the polls.