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What local authorities do

Providing services

Scotland's 32 local authorities are responsible for providing a range of public services. This includes: education, social care, roads and transport, economic development, housing and planning, environmental protection, waste management, cultural and leisure services.

Powers and duties

Local authorities have a number of powers and duties which are set out in legislation:

  • mandatory duties - such as providing schooling for 5-16 year olds and social work services;

  • permissive powers - such as economic development and recreation services; and,

  • regulatory powers - such as trading standards, environmental health and licensing for taxis and public houses.

These duties and powers arise from many different pieces of legislation. Some of them cover a wide range of policy areas (such as the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973), while others focus on one particular area (such as the Planning etc (Scotland) Act 2006).

Some local authorities make extensive use of Arm’s Length External Organisations (ALEOs) to provide services. ALEOs are organisations which are external to a local authority, typically established by a local authority to deliver services such as sports and leisure, economic development and property maintenance.

Partnership working

Councils are also able to set up organisations with other public bodies to deliver services. In some cases these are collaborations with other councils to provide a service across the combined area of the participating local authorities through a Joint Board or Joint Committee: examples include the Ayrshire Roads Alliance, Tay Road Bridge Joint Board and Valuation Joint Boards.

In other cases, local authorities are required by law to work with other public bodies to deliver an integrated approach. Since 2003, local authorities have been required to work in partnership with other agencies (such as health boards, enterprise, police and fire bodies) responsible for public service delivery in an area. This partnership approach is called Community Planning. Local authorities are responsible for initiating, facilitating and maintaining Community Planning. More recently, the Public Bodies (Joint Working) (Scotland) Act 2014 put in place a requirement for NHS Boards and local authorities to work together to deliver integrated health and social care services through Health and Social Care Partnerships.

Sometimes collaborations are with both other local authorities and other public bodies, for instance to develop Regional Transport Partnerships.

Publication of Information

Local authorities publish information about their policies and services. When doing so, they have regard to the Code of Practice on Local Authority Publicity (issued under the Local Government Act 1986). The Code which applies in Scotland was issued in 1988: later versions apply in England (2011) and Wales (2001).