Key considerations in local authority decision making
Produced in partnership with Philip McCourt
Key considerations in local authority decision making

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

  • Key considerations in local authority decision making
  • Legal status of local authorities
  • Is there statutory authority to make this decision?
  • Is the decision going to be in furtherance of the policy and objectives of the statute?
  • Do we have the authority from local authority to make this decision?
  • Have we performed our duties as required?
  • Have we followed the correct procedures?
  • Have we taken into consideration all of the relevant factors; and have we disregarded all of the irrelevant factors?
  • Is our likely decision a proportionate balance between the necessary objectives and the civil rights affected?
  • Have we exercised our discretion as required?

Legal status of local authorities

Superficially, those elected to run a local authority will take decisions as they see fit, according to their electoral mandate, and those employed by the authority will take decisions to implement the elected members’ plan. However, this is overly simplistic. While much has been made of the ‘general power of competence’ given to local authorities, it remains the case that members are constrained in what they can do and those executives who run them or employees who work for them are even more so.

Local authorities are statutory corporations, created by Parliament as single legal entities, as described in Hazell v Hammersmith and Fulham:

‘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’.

There are many such statutory provisions, some of which provide an overall framework but most of which charge the authority with carrying out one among many, sometimes competing, functions of a council or local authority for a particular purpose.

When making a decision, each relevant statutory provisions and more general rules about corporations and public authorities needs to be considered. Failure to do so could result in:

  1. the quashing of the decision through a judicial review if successful

  2. prejudice to the finances of the authority,