News story

Whitehall set to relax grip on councils with first ever review of local government's legal duties

In another major step to free up local government, councils are being asked for the bureaucratic burdens they wish to throw away in the first…

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

In another major step to free up local government, councils are being asked for the bureaucratic burdens they wish to throw away in the first ever central review of their statutory duties, Decentralisation Minister Greg Clark announced today.

Historically central government has been prescriptive about how councils should serve their communities and virtually every function councils undertake has a legal duty attached to it, set out in numerous Acts of Parliament.

To date no Government has ever assessed the cumulative burden imposed by the hundreds of legal duties placed on local government. Mr Clark believes that Government needs to be clear about the current demands placed on councils and decide which duties remain relevant to serving the public. The Review will proactively identify old and unnecessary burdens or barriers preventing councils from getting on with their job. However the Government will not remove statutory protections for vital frontline services such as libraries and child protection.

Today the Department of Communities and Local Government working with departments across Whitehall has published an initial list of more than 1,200 legal duties imposed mainly by primary legislation. Whilst many of these may be vital others are not and councils will themselves advise ministers of any duties missed at this stage, if any create unwanted burdens and which ones could potentially be repealed (see link, top right). 

The Coalition Government is determined to give councils the freedom and discretion they need to get things done without Whitehall red tape and regulation tying them down. The Review will start the process of simplifying legal requirements on local government while still protecting necessary safeguards and ensuring greater local transparency and accountability to local taxpayers.

Mr Clark said:

Historically Whitehall has prescribed how councils should conduct their business. As a result hundreds of accumulated legal requirements have become attached to the functions councils undertake.

Until now no Government has comprehensively reviewed the relevance and worth of these legal duties to check if councils aren’t being smothered by top down bureaucracy. That’s why today we’re asking councils to tell us which duties actually serve the public and which ones serve to create unnecessary burdens.

Rather than sending reams of paperwork to officials in Whitehall, councils need to be more accountable to their local residents. I am determined to release councils from the grip of Westminster micro-management by busting these bureaucratic barriers and burdens and letting them get on with their job. The transparency agenda will empower the local press and public to hold their local councils to account and ensure greater value for money over local spending. Government rules and regulations should be there to help councils deliver for the public - not stand in their way.

The Localism Bill, currently going through Parliament, is already set to remove some of these duties. Ministers are committed to continuing to bust down the barriers that hinder councils and residents from managing their own lives.

The Government has already abolished thousands of central targets on local government, ended the costly inspection regime and announced work to streamline data requirements imposed on local government.

Ministers believe instead of streams of regulation and red tape pouring out of Whitehall, councils need to be freed to deliver local priorities. Mr Clark launched an online portal so councils, community groups, local institutions and individuals can highlight bureaucratic barriers stopping them from taking action they believe would improve their area:

Updated 16 March 2011 to clarify that duties on frontline services will be protected.

Notes to editor

  1. Today the Government has announced the review of statutory duties which government departments place on local authorities. 16 departments and agencies of government are publishing their initial draft list of statutory duties for which their departments are responsible covering wide ranging and diverse interests such as housing, planning, crime and policing, adult social care, public health, equality, the environment and licensing - to highlight a few. The list is not exhaustive - it reflects mainly those duties imposed by primary legislation for which departments and their predecessors are responsible. DCLG’s draft list has included statutory and non-statutory guidance that applies to the duties.
  2. For DCLG, for the time being, it also excludes duties stemming from Parts 1 and 2 of the Building Act 1984 as we are in the process of undertaking a separate review of these. There are also other reviews underway that are likely to impact on this work such as the Law Commission’s review of adult social care. A Q&A has been provided online:


Keep up to date with the Department by following us on Twitter (external link).

Media enquiries

Visit our newsroom contacts page for media enquiry contact details.

Published 8 March 2011