Local councils can only carry out an activity where they have been given a statutory power or duty to do so, and these powers and duties are defined in detail in legislation.

Town and parish councils have a wide range of powers and but very few duties.

A duty is an activity that must be carried out, for example, local councils must appoint a Chair and a Clerk, produce a budget and appoint a responsible financial officer to manage their finances.

Powers give parish and town councils the opportunity to take action and are therefore discretionary. Local councils must also exercise their powers in a manner consistent with general law (for example, planning permission is necessary for a sports pavilion).

Function Powers and Duties Statutory Provision
Accounts Duty to appoint a Responsible Financial Officer to manage the Councils’ accounts Local Government Act 1972, section 151
Acceptance of office Duty to sign Declaration Of Acceptance Of Office (Councillors and Chairman) Local Government Act 1972, section 83
Agency arrangements Power to arrange for the discharge of functions by another local authority Local Government Act 1972, section 101
Allotments Power to provide allotments and duty to provide allotment gardens if demand exists Smallholdings and Allotments Act 1908, subsections 23, 26 and 42
Baths and washhouses Power to provide public baths and washhouses (i.e. launderettes) Public Health Act 1936, subsections 221, 222, 223 and 227
Borrowing Power to borrow money for statutory functions Local Government Act 1972, Schedule 13
Burial grounds, cemeteries and crematoria * Power to acquire and maintain Open Spaces Act 1906, subsections 9 and 10
Power to provide Local Government Act 1972, section 214
Power to agree to maintain memorials and monuments Parish Councils and Burial Authorities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1970, section 1
Power to contribute to expenses of maintaining cemeteries Local Government Act 1972, section 214(6)
Bus shelters * Power to provide and maintain bus shelters Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1953, section 4
Bus services Power to make grants of money (though not of a capital nature) for bus service appearing to be for the benefit of people living in the Council’s area or community bus service (mini buses run on non-profit basis and catering for social and welfare needs of one or more communities) Local Government and Rating Act 1997
Byelaws Power to make byelaws for public walks and pleasure grounds Public Health Act 1875, section 164
Power to make byelaws for cycle parks Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, section 57(7)
Power to make byelaws for baths and washhouses Public Health Act, 1936, section 233
Power to make byelaws for open spaces and burial grounds Open Spaces Act, 1906, section 15
Car sharing scheme Power to establish and maintain, or to assist others, in car-sharing scheme for the benefit of persons in Council’s area. Scheme whereby private cars are made available for use on journeys where one or more passengers may be carried at separate fares Local Government and Rating Act 1997
Chairman’s Allowance Power to pay the Chairman reasonable allowance Local Government Act 1972 sections 15(5) and 35(5)
Charities Power to appoint trustees of parochial charities Charities Act 1993, section 79
Christmas lights Power to provide to attract visitors Local Government Act 1972, section 144
Citizens Advice Bureau Power to support Local Government Act 1972, section 142
Clocks * Power to provide public clocks Parish Councils Act 1957, section 2
Closed churchyards Power (and sometimes duty) to maintain Local Government Act 1972, section 215
Commons and common pastures Powers in relation to enclosure, regulation and management, and providing common pasture Enclosure Act 1845; Local Government Act 1894, section 8(4); Smallholdings and Allotments Act 1908, section 34
Community centres Power to provide and equip community buildings Local Government Act 1972, section 133
Power to provide buildings for use of clubs having athletic, social or educational objectives Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, section 19
Conference Facilities * Power to provide and encourage the use conference facilities Local Government Act 1997, section 144
Consultation Right to be consulted by Principal Councils if directed by Secretary of State (England) or by Welsh Assembly (Wales) Local Government and Rating Act 1997, section 21; Local Government Act 1972, section 33A
Councillors’ Allowances Power to pay allowances and travelling and subsistence to elected members The Local Authorities (Members’ Allowances) (England) Regulations 2003
Crime prevention * Power to spend money on various crime prevention measures. May make grants of money to police authorities Local Government and Rating Act 1997, section 31
Drainage Power to deal with ditches and ponds Public Health Act 1936, section 260
Entertainment and the Arts* Power to provide entertainment and support for the arts including festivals and celebrations Local Government Act 1972, section 145
Flagpoles Power to erect flagpoles in the highways Highways Act 1980, section 144
Free Resource Power to incur expenditure not otherwise authorised on anything which in the council’s opinion is in the interests of the area or part of it or all or some of the inhabitants Local Government Act 1972, section 137
Gifts Power to accept gifts Local Government Act 1972, section 139
Highways Power to repair and maintain public footpaths and bridleways Highways Act 1980, subsections 43 and 50
Power to light roads and public places Parish Councils Act 1957, section 3; Highways Act 1980, section 301
Power to provide parking places for motor vehicles, bicycles and motorcycles Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, sections 57 and 63
Power to make a dedication agreement for a new highway or widening of an existing highway Highways Act 1980, subsections 30 and 72
Consent of Parish Council required (right to veto application to Magistrates Court) for ending maintenance of highway at public expenses, to stop up, divert or cease to maintain a public highway Highways Act 1980, subsections 47 and 116
Power to complain to a local highway authority that a highway is unlawfully stopped up or obstructed Highways Act 1908, section 130
Power to plant trees etc. and maintain roadside verges Highways Act 1980, section 96
Power to prosecute for unlawful ploughing of a footpath or bridleway Highways Act 1980, section 134
Power to provide traffic signs and other notices Road Traffic Regulation Act, 1984, section 72
Power to provide litter bins on the highway and public places * Litter Act 1983, subsections 5 and 6
Power to provide seats and shelters on the highway and public places * Parish Councils Act 1957 S1
Interests Duty to declare an interest Local Government Act 1972, section 94
Investments Power to participate in schemes of collective investment Trustee Act 1961, section 11
Land Power to acquire land by agreement, to appropriate land and to dispose of land Local Government Act 1972, subsections 124, 126 and 127
Power to acquire land by compulsory purchase Local Government Act 1972, section 125
Power to accept gifts of land Local Government Act 1972, section 139
Power to obtain particulars of persons interested in land Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, section 16
Lotteries Power to promote lotteries Lotteries and Amusements Act 1976, section 7
Meetings Duty to hold annual parish meeting Local Government Act 1972, Schedule 12 paragraph 23
Duty to hold annual parish council meeting Local Government Act 1972, Schedule 12 paragraph 7
Power to convene a parish meeting Local Government Act 1972, Schedule 12 paragraph 14
Mortuaries and post-mortem rooms Power to provide mortuaries and post-mortem rooms Public Health Act 1936, section 198
Newsletters Power to provide information relating to matters affecting local government Local Government Act 1972, section 142
Nuisances * Power to deal with offensive ponds, ditches and gutters Public Health Act 1936, section 260
Open Spaces Power to acquire and maintain open spaces Public Health Act 1875, section 164; Open Spaces Act 1906, subsections 9, 10
Parish documents and property Power to give directions as to custody of parish documents Local Government Act 1972, section 226
Parks and pleasure grounds Power to acquire land or to provide recreation grounds, public walks, pleasure grounds and open spaces and to manage and control them Public Health Act 1875, section 164; Local Government Act 1972 Schedule 14 paragraph 27; Public Health Acts Amendment Act 1890 section 44
Public buildings and village halls Power to prosecute or defend or appear in any legal proceedings. May institute civil proceedings in Parish Council name. May represent the community at public enquiries Local Government Act 1972, section 222
Public buildings and village halls * Power to provide buildings for offices and for public meetings and assemblies Local Government Act 1972, section 133
Public conveniences Power to provide public conveniences Public Health Act 1936, section 87
Public inspection of documents Duty to provide the public the right to inspect certain documents Local Government Act 1972, section 228
Publicity Power to provide information about matters affecting local government Local Government Act 1972, section 142
Records Power to collect, exhibit and purchase local records Local Government (Records) Act 1962, subsections 1 and 2
Recreation * Power to acquire land for, or to provide recreational facilities including recreation grounds, public walks, pleasure grounds and open spaces and to manage and control them Public Health Act 1875 S164; Local Government Act 1972 Schedule 14 Para 27; Public Health Acts Amendment Act 1890 section 44; Open Spaces Act 1906 sections 9 and 10
Power to provide gymnasiums, playing fields and holiday camps Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, section 19
Power to provide boating pools Public Health Act 1961, section 54
Staff Power to appoint staff under reasonable terms and conditions Local Government Act 1972, section 112
Subscriptions Power to subscribe to Local Government associations Local Government Act 1972, section 143
Town and Country planning Right to be notified of planning applications Town and Country Planning Act 1990, Schedule 1 paragraph 8
Tourism * Power to contribute to encouragement of tourism Local Government Act 1972, section 144
Traffic calming Power to contribute to the cost of traffic calming measures Highways Act 1980, section 274A
Transport* Power to (a) establish car-sharing schemes; (b) make grants for bus services; (c) provide taxi-fare concessions; (d) investigate public transport, road use needs; (e) provide information about public transport services Local Government and Rating Act 1997, section 26, Transport Act 1985, section 106A
Village signs Power to make and erect decorative signs to inform visitors Local Government Act 1972, section 144
Village greens * Power to maintain, to make byelaws for and to prosecute for interference with village greens Open Spaces Act 1906, section 15; Enclosure Act 1857, section 12; Commons Act 1876, section 29
War memorials Power to maintain, repair and protect war memorials War Memorials (Local Authorities Powers) Act 1923, section 1 as extended by Local Government Act 1948, section 133
Water supply Power to utilise any well, spring or stream to provide facilities for obtaining water from them Public Health Act 1936, section 125

Section 137

Section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972 (as amended) enables councils to incur expenditure for certain purposes, not otherwise authorised, which in their opinion is in the interest of, and will bring direct benefit to, their area or any part of it or all or some of its inhabitants. This is the often the power under which councils make grants and donations to local causes. The benefit obtained must be commensurate with the expenditure incurred. The annual expenditure must not exceed the total electorate multiplied by the annual statutory limit per elector, which is £8.12 in 2019/2020.