What is a Local Authority?

Local Authorities are democratically elected bodies responsible for the economic, social and environmental well-being of citizens and their local area.

Local Authorities are organised in different ways and vary in size and structure:

  • In most of England there is a two tier system composed of County Councils which provide 80% of services for the entire area and District Councils which cover local services for smaller areas.
  • In some areas of the UK there is a single tier structure which can be a Metropolitan Area or a Unitary Authority.
  • London is a unique two-tier system composed of 33 Unitary Authorities called London Boroughs which provide the local services and the Greater London Authority which provides some of the city-wide services.

The sovereign body of the Local authority is the full Council meeting, in which all councillors, elected by us every 4 years, vote. The Council meeting is responsible for:

  • agreeing the budget
  • appointing chief officers
  • setting policy framework
  • making constitutional decisions

 By law the Council’s formal meetings must be held in public, but the public and press can be excluded for discussions on some confidential items. Councils must give at least five days notice of a meeting and the agenda must be made available at least five days before the meeting. Minutes must be published on the Council’s website and available on request.

While councillors are responsible for the overall decision making, officers manage their implementation along the day-to-day operations of the organisation. By law every Local Authority must appoint three key officers:

  • A Chief Executive who advises on policy, procedure and legislation
  • A Monitoring Officer who advises on the legal framework in which the Council can operate
  • A Section 151 Officer who monitors the financial affairs of the Council

Relevant responsibilities of the Section 151 Officer’s role are:

  • Advising on corporate risk, including safeguarding assets, risk avoidance and insurance
  • Ensuring there is an effective internal audit function
  • Assisting management in providing effective arrangements for financial and performance scrutiny
  • Securing effective systems of financial administration, such as income collection and payment systems
  • Securing effective arrangements for treasury management, pensions and trust funds.
  • Advising on anti-fraud and anti-corruption strategies and measures.

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