General power of competence
Produced in partnership with Dr Nicholas Dobson

The following Local Government practice 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 (GPC)?
  • Why was it introduced?
  • Nature and scope of the GPC
  • Charging
  • Trading
  • Limitations on use of GPC
  • Restrictions
  • Boundaries
  • More...

General power of competence

This Practice Note explains the concept of the general power of competence (GPC) afforded to local authorities by the Localism Act 2011 (LA 2011). It covers the nature and scope of the power, the charging and trading provisions it facilitates and the restrictions in its use. For a comprehensive discussion of overarching considerations for sound decision making, see Practice Note: Key considerations in local authority decision making.

Local authority is a creature of statute

As Lord Templeman famously indicated in Hazell v Hammersmith and Fulham LBC:

‘...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 of 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) to facilitate such an approach.

What is the general power of competence (GPC)?

The GPC 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.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said at the time:

‘It is important that the general power should not

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