Powers and Duties of Local Councils

What are powers and duties?
Duties are legal obligations – actions that a council must take by law.

A council must:

  • appoint a chairman of the council
  • appoint officers as appropriate for carrying out its functions
  • appoint an independent and competent internal auditor
  • appoint a responsible financial officer (RFO) to manage the council’s financial affairs (The RFO is often the clerk, especially in smaller councils)
  • hold a minimum number of four meetings per year, one of which must be the Annual Meeting of the Council
    consider the provision of allotments if there is demand for them from local residents and it is 
reasonable to do so
  • hold an annual Parish / Town meeting
  • comply with its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act (2000), the Data Protection Act (1998) and the Equality Act (2010), General Data Protection Act (GDPR) and the Localism Act 2011
  • comply with employment law
  • consider the impact of their decisions on reducing crime and disorder in their area
  • have regard to the protection of biodiversity in carrying out their functions
  • decide whether to adopt a churchyard when it is closed, if asked to do so by the Parochial Church Council

Powers are contained in legislation and permit actions to be taken at the council’s discretion.

  • A council may do only what the law requires it to
  • A council may do only what the law says it may
  • A council cannot do anything unless permitted by legislation
  • The good news is that local councils have a wide range of powers.
  • A useful list is provided below, examples provide and maintain bus shelters, street lights, provide recreational facilities and support Citizens Advice

Here is an indicative list of powers and functions to help you appreciate the wide range of activities covered by Acts of Parliament (see also Governance and Accountability). It is a useful reference when you need to know if the local council has permission to act but note, no list can be totally comprehensive.

FunctionPowers and DutiesStatutory Provisions
AllotmentsPower to provide allotments

Duty to provide allotment gardens if demand unsatisfied and if reasonable to do so

Smallholdings & Allotments Act 1908, s.23
Administration of the council.Duty to undertake the following: – Appoint a chairman of the council; Appoint officers as appropriate for carrying out its functions;

Appoint a responsible financial officer (RFO) to manage the council’s financial affairs; the RFO is often the clerk especially in smaller councils;

Appoint an independent and competent auditor;

Hold a minimum number of 4 meetings

per year, one of which must be the Annual Meeting of the Council.

Local Government Act 1972, s.15(2)

Local Government Act 1972 s 112


Local Government Act 1972, s151

Local Government Act 1972, schedule 12 p8 (1)

Annual Parish meetingDuty to hold an annual parish meeting.Local Government Act 1972, s12 para 23
Borrowing moneyPower for councils to borrow money for their statutory functions or for the prudent management of their financial affairsLocal Government Act 2003 Schedule 1 para 2
Baths (public)Power to provide public swimming baths and washhouses.Public Health Act 1936 s.221
Bio-DiversityDuty to consider in decision makingNatural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 s.40

Burial grounds, cemeteries and crematoria

Power to acquire and maintainOpen Spaces Act 1906,
Power to provideSections 9 and 10 Local Government Act 1972, s.214
Power to agree to maintain monuments and memorialsParish Councils and Burial, Authorities (Miscellaneous, Provisions) Act 1970, s.1
Power to contribute towards expenses of cemeteriesLocal Government Act 1972, s.214(6)
Bus sheltersPower to provide and maintain bus sheltersLocal Government (Misc. shelters Prov.) Act 1953, s.4
ByelawsPower to make byelaws in regard to pleasure groundsPublic Health Act 1875, s.164
Cycle ParksRoad Traffic Regulation Act1984, s.57(7)
Baths and washhousesPublic Health Act 1936, s.22
Open spaces and burial groundsOpen Spaces Act, 1906, s.15
Mortuaries and post-mortem roomsPublic Health Act 1936, s.198
CharitiesDuties in respect of parochial charities Power to act as charity trusteesCharities Act 1993, s.79 Local Government Act 1972 s. 139(1)
ClocksPower to provide public clocksParish Councils Act 1957, s.2
Closed churchyardsPowers to maintain and a

Duty to decide whether to adopt a closed churchyard, if asked to do so by the

Parochial Church Council.

LGA 1972 s.215
Commons and Common pasturesPowers in relation to inclosure, regulation and management and provision of common pastureInclosure Act 1845
Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908, s.34
Community centresPower to provide and equip buildings for use of clubs, having athletic, social or educational objectives
Power to acquire, provide and furnish community buildings
Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act1976 s.19
Local Government Act 1972, s.133
Conference facilitiesPower to provide and encourage the use of facilitiesLocal Government Act 1972, s.144
Crime preventionPower to spend money on various crime prevention measures.

Duty to do what it can do to prevent crime

and disorder.

Local Government and Rating Act 1997, s.31
Crime and Disorder Act 1998 s.17
DrainagePower to deal with ponds and ditchesPublic Health Act 1936, s.260
EmploymentDuty to comply with Employment LawEmployment Act 2002 Employment Relations Act 2004 Employment Act 2008
The Work & Families Act 2006 Equality Act 2010, s.149 and schedule 19
Human Rights Act 1998 s.6
Entertainment and the ArtsProvision of entertainment and support of the artsLGA 1972, s.145
EnvironmentPower to issue fixed penalty notices for litter, graffiti and offences under dog control ordersClean neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005, s.19 s.30 Part 6
The “Free Resource”Power to spend a sum of money for the benefit of some or all of the parishioners. The expenditure must be commensurate with the benefit.Local Government Act 1972 s.137
Freedom of InformationDuty to comply with its obligations under th

Freedom of Information Act and Data Protection Act.

Freedom of Information Act 2000 Data Protection Act 1998
General Power of CompetencePower for an eligible council to do anything subject to statutory prohibitions, restrictions and limitations which include those in place before or after the introduction of the general power of competence.Localism Act 2011, s.1- 8
GiftsPower to accept giftsLGA 1972, s.139
HighwaysPower to repair and maintain public footpaths and BridlewaysHighways Act 1980, ss. 43,50
Power to light roads and public placesParish Councils Act 1957 s.3
Highways Act 1980, s301
Provision of litter binsLitter Act 1983, ss.5,6
Power to provide parking places for vehicles, bicycles and motor cyclesRoad Traffic Regulation Act1984 s.57, 63
Power to enter into an agreement as to dedication and wideningHighways Act 1980 ss.30, 72
Power to provide roadside seats and sheltersParish Councils Act 1957 s.1
Consent of parish council required for ending maintenance of highway at public expense, or for stopping up or diversion of highway.Highways Act 1980, ss.47,116
Power to complain to district council about the protection of rights of way and roadside wasteHighways Act 1908, s.130
Power to provide certain traffic signs and other NoticesRoad Traffic Regulation Act.1984, s.72
Power to plant trees etc. and maintain roadside vergesHighways Act 1980, s.96
Honorary TitlesPower to admit to be honorary freemen/freewomen of the councils area persons of distinction and persons have, in the opinion of the authority rendered eminent services to that place or area.

Local Government Act 1972, s.249

InvestmentsPower to participate in schemes of Collective investmentTrustee Investment Act 1961 s.11
LandPower to acquire land by agreement, to appropriate land and to dispose of landLGA 1972, ss.124, 126 & 127
Power to accept gifts of landLGA 1972, s.139
LitterProvision of receptaclesLitter Act 1983, ss.5,
LotteriesPower to promote lotteriesGambling Act 2005 s.252, 258
MarketsPower to establish or acquire by agreement markets within the council’s area and to provide a market place and market buildingsFood Act 1984 s.50
MinutesDuty to keep minutesLocal Government Act 1972, s12 p41(1)
Mortuaries and post-mortem roomsPower to provide mortuaries and post-mortem roomsPublic Health Act 1936,s198
NewslettersPower to provide information relating to Matters affecting local governmentLGA 1972 s.142
NuisancesPower to deal with offensive ponds, ditches and guttersPublic Health Act 1936, s.260
Open SpacesPower to acquire and maintain land for public recreationPublic Health Act 1875 s.164
Power to acquire and maintain land for open spacesOpen Spaces Act 1906, s.9-10
Parish property and documentsPowers to direct as to their custody

Local Government Act 1972, s.226

Duty to deposit certain published works in

specific deposit libraries

Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003, s.1
Public buildings and village hallsPower to acquire and provide buildings for public meetings and assembliesLGA 1972, s.133
PreceptPower to set the preceptLocal Government Act 1972, s.41(4)
Public conveniencesPower to provide public conveniencesPublic Health Act 1936, s. 87
RecreationPower to acquire land or to provide recreation grounds, public walks, pleasure grounds and open spaces and to manage and control them
Power to provide a wide range of Recreational facilities
Provision of boating pools
Public Health Act 1875, s.164 Local Government Act 1972, Sched. 14 para 27
Public Health Acts Amendment Act 1890 s.144
Open Spaces Act 1906, ss. 9and 10
Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) 1976 s.19
Public Health Act 1961 s.54
Town and Country PlanningRight to be notified of planning applications if right has been requestedTown and Country Planning Act 1990. Sched 1, para 8
TourismPower to contribute to encouragement of TourismLGA 1972, s.144
Traffic calmingPower to contribute financially to traffic calming measuresLocal Government and Rating Act 1997 s.30
TransportPowers to spend money on community transport schemesLocal Government and Rating Act 1997, s.26-29
War memorialsPower to maintain, repair, protect and adapt war memorialsWar Memorials (Local Authorities Powers) Act1923,s.1 as extended by LGA 1948 s.133
Water supplyPower to utilise any well, spring or stream for obtaining waterPublic Health Act 1936 s.125
WebsitesPower for councils to have their own websites

Duty on smaller authorities to publish specific information on a website.

LGA 1972, s.142
Transparency Code for Smaller Authorities 2014.