Local self-government has a long tradition in Sweden as the civil role of the Lutheran Church has been gradually reduced. The first legislation establishing municipal governance is the Local Government Ordinances of 1862 that separated religious tasks from civil tasks which were given to cities and rural municipal districts. On 1 January 2000, the Church of Sweden separated from the central government, and local parishes lost their local government status.
Decentralization is markedly characteristic of Sweden's governmental structure. With the most recent reforms there are two types of local governance in Sweden: the municipality, or kommun , as the local unit and the county council as the regional unit. The country is divided into 21 counties, 2 regions, 289 municipalities, and one "county council-free municipality" on the island of Gotland, each with an elected council. Local government is administered by county councils and municipalities consisting of at least 20 members popularly elected, on a proportional basis, for four years. Under each council is an executive board with various committees. In addition, there is a governor (prefect), the government-appointed head of the administrative board in each of Sweden's counties, who holds supreme police and other supervisory authority. Local authorities are responsible for most social welfare services, including hospitals, elementary education, certain utilities, and the police force. It is up to the Swedish cabinet and parliament to decide on the overall framework of public sector activities, but within these wide parameters, local governments have a large measure of freedom to implement public programs.