Structure of local government
Produced in partnership with Philip McCourt
Structure of local government

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

  • Structure of local government
  • Structure and purpose of local authorities
  • Governance of LAs
  • Members (councillors)
  • Officers

Coronavirus (COVID-19): This Practice Note contains guidance on matters that have temporarily been altered to assist in the management of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. For further information, see Practice Notes: Local authority meetings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and Coronavirus (COVID-19)—governance tracker.

There are some basic elements of local authorities that tend to be overlooked by new members (councillors) and new officers alike, including lawyers.

Structure and purpose of local authorities

Local authorities are organisations, created by statute as single legal entities. Local Authorities may only act in a way that they are statutorily empowered to act either under the statute by which they are established or in accordance with other legislation that adds to their powers.

Not only must Local Authorities act in accordance with legislation, they may only carry out an action for the purpose(s) that Parliament intended when passing the relevant statutes. If a local authority fails to act in accordance with its statutory powers, or fails to act for the purposes set out, it is likely that it will be acting ‘beyond their powers’. This is the concept of 'ultra vires’. Any ultra vires action undertaken by a local authority is at risk of legal challenge and, if such a challenge is successful, will be declared unlawful.

Governance of LAs

A principal council must adopt a constitution setting out its governance, decision-making structure, standing orders and

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