General power of competence
Produced in partnership with Dr Nicholas Dobson
General power of competence

The following Local Government guidance note Produced in partnership with Dr Nicholas Dobson provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • General power of competence
  • Local authority is a creature of statute
  • What is the general power of competence?
  • Why is it needed?
  • Nature and scope of the competence power
  • Analogous provisions for other types of authority
  • Public law and other principles
  • Case law
  • Prudence—look carefully before you leap
  • Confidence

Local authority is a creature of statute

As Lord Templeman famously indicated in Hazell v Hammersmith and Fulham LBC [1991] 1 All ER 545, a ‘local authority, although democratically elected and representative of the area, is not a sovereign body and can only do such things as are expressly or impliedly authorised by Parliament’.

Every local authority must therefore have statutory authority for all its actions.

In the past councils found this to be an unhelpful constraint particularly when they wished to provide local functions and services more context sensitively. This was because of the absence (or perceived absence) of suitable legal powers (vires).

What is the general power of competence?

The Competence Power (see Part 1 of the Localism Act 2011 (LA 2011)) was introduced on 17 February 2012 as an extensive, primary, empowering measure to give local authorities the confidence to act innovatively and creatively for the benefit of their communities.

As the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) pointed out in May 2011:

‘It is important that the general power should not only increase local authority powers, but increase the confidence of local authority officers and members in the scope of those powers.’

Why is it needed?

Previous reliance by authorities on section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972 (LGA 1972) (local authorities may do anything