Local Councils’ Powers and Duties
Town and parish councils have some limited duties and a broad range of powers, developed over centuries under which they can act to improve the economic and social well-being of their communities. A detailed list of local council powers can be viewed here.
General Power of Competence
In the Localism Act 2011, local councils in England were given a General Power of Competence. This means that Councils, once adopting the power, no longer need to ask whether they have a specific power to act, from one of the many powers detailed above. Instead they can rely on this single power to make decisions and deliver services and projects. There are limits to the power – councils are given “the power to do anything that individuals generally may do as long as they do not break any other laws”. It is a power of first resort.
There are some limits on using the General Power of Competence where other laws take priority, for example duties on councils to act to prevent crime and disorder; to respect human rights; to consider biodiversity; and to protect personal data. Sometimes a council will want to do things that an individual can’t do, so these are also outside the power: creating byelaws, charging a precept (council tax) or issuing fixed penalty notices. In these cases they must use the original legislation. The General Power of Competence does not mean the Council can delegate decisions to individual councillors. This procedural matter remains enshrined in law.
St Ives Town Council first adopted the General Power of Competence at its meeting on 26th July 2018. It re-adopted the power at its annual meeting on the 19th of May 2021 (minute 20.i). This power remains with the Town Council until the Annual Meeting following the next ordinary election (i.e. May 2025); it can then be readopted at that Annual Meeting if the Council is still eligible.
In order to be eligible to adopt the General Power of Competence there are two criteria that must be fulfilled:
At the time when the General Power of Competence is adopted, at least two-thirds of the total seats on the council must be held by members who stood at the last ordinary election or subsequent by-election, i.e. council members who have been elected (even if unopposed) rather than co-opted or appointed. Of the 16 Council members, 14 were elected un-opposed at the May 2021 election, therefore this condition is met.
The Clerk must hold the Certificate in Local Council Administration or an equivalent qualification. The current Town Clerk holds the required qualification and did so at the time of the decision being made. Their qualification can be inspected on request.
Decisions of the Council must be made at meetings of the Council, unless the Council has delegated decision making (that is, given approval for someone else to make certain decisions). Decisions can be delegated to Council Committees or officers. But some decisions must always be made by full Council, such as setting the budget. The Council can also delegate decision making to officers, usually the Town Clerk. All decisions delegated to officers must be recorded.
Details of how decisions are delegated in St Ives can be viewed in the Council’s adopted Scheme of Delegation.
During the Corona Virus pandemic, the Council has needed to suspend formal meetings for specific periods. During these periods, the Council has passed an emergency scheme of delegation to permit officers to make decisions, in consultation with Councillors. All such decisions are documented and ratified at the next meeting of the Council.