General Power of Competence
Published by Anonymous for allpay Limited in Local Government and also in Central Government, Housing
Notepad, phone and pen
Part 1 of the Localism Act 2011 has sought to revolutionise the powers of local authorities, giving them unprecedented freedom to improve services and to cut down spending by entrusting them with a ‘general power of competence’.
Whereas local government has historically been restricted by legislation (only being able to do what the law specifically said it could), it is now permitted to do “anything that individuals generally may do”, provided that it is not specifically prohibited by law.
The aim of this general power of competence is to minimise bureaucracy, free up Central Government and relieve the frustrations of local authorities who were previously afraid to take an innovative approach to local issues in case it led to them acting beyond their powers. And although the freedom provided by the competence power may well be unprecedented, it is not unlimited: the Act also sets out the power’s general boundaries and restrictions.
It is hoped that this general power of competence will be more successful than the ‘wellbeing power’ introduced by the Local Government Act 2000, which was rendered practically ineffective by a Court of Appeal decision in 2009. By the legislature’s choice in expressly drafting the scope of the competence power as wide as possible, it promises to bring exciting opportunities for councils to become involved in activities that they have previously been unable to participate in. From offering council services to the public on a commercial basis to providing new initiatives to small businesses in a bid to boost local economy and growth, there is the opportunity for public bodies to enter new terrain, leading to exciting opportunities for innovative and creative solutions.
Ultimately, however, it remains to be seen how well the new power will be embraced by local authorities and to what extent. Even though the restrictions faced by the wellbeing power appear to be overcome, it will be interesting to ascertain whether it surmounts other tangible threats to the realms of creativity, especially amongst the backdrop of the present austerity measures and financial restrictions of the economic times.