The district was formed on 1 April 1974, under the Local Government Act 1972, as a merger of the previous municipal borough of Okehampton, Okehampton Rural District, and Tavistock Rural District. West Devon contains most of Dartmoor.
Elections to the borough council are held every four years with 31 councillors representing 22 wards. Since 2011, the Conservative Party has controlled the council and since 2015 have been the only registered party with seats on the council.
In 2013, the Local Government Boundary Commission for England initiated a review of West Devon with the aim of delivering electoral equality amongst voters at local elections, with each councillor representing a similar number of voters and with ward boundaries reflecting the interests and identities of local communities. After a consultation period, the commission recommended that West Devon should continue to be represented by 31 councillors and that certain changes should be made to the wards; they proposed moving from a two-member Dartmoor ward to two single-member wards called Dartmoor and Mary Tavy; and from a two-member Tamarside ward to two single-member wards, Tamarside and Milton Ford.
Services provided by West Devon Borough Council to the local community include the administration of council tax and local benefits, transportation services, road maintenance, the provision of car parking services, the collection of refuse and the recycling of waste, planning and building control, housing services, the provision of sport and leisure facilities, libraries, schools and colleges, social care and health, environmental services, business-related services and contingency planning.