Local authority services

Your local authority is responsible for a variety of services to business including permits, licences, permissions and business support.


7 min read

1. Overview

Your local authority is responsible for a range of services that your business may need to use or know about. These include collecting business rates and approving planning applications, enforcing health, safety, environment and trading standards requirements, and issuing parking permits. Local authorities are also responsible for issuing premises licences to businesses who supply alcohol, provide entertainment or late night refreshments.

Many local authorities also offer a range of business-support services to encourage economic development and regeneration.

This guide sets out the key services that local authorities are likely to provide to businesses in their area, and explains the help and advice they offer.

2. Collection of business rates

Local authorities are responsible for collecting business rates in your area. Rates are usually payable by the occupiers of non-domestic properties such as shops and offices.

Your council will normally send you your rates bill in March or April. It sets out your payments for the year ahead and explains how they have been calculated.

You'll normally be asked to pay in ten monthly instalments - the bill should set out the amount and timing of each one.

If you can't pay an instalment or have a query about your bill, it's important to contact your local authority immediately. You may be able to agree to reschedule payments.

Never simply ignore a bill. The council may take action against you, resulting in you having to pay more. And ultimately you could face court action.

Read guidance on business rates and estimate your bill.

3. Business support and economic development

Many local authorities offer a range of business support services to encourage economic development and regeneration.

It's worth checking your council's website or telephoning its business support unit to find out about the services it offers.

At the very least your local authority should be able to put you in touch with a range of local business-support organisations such as your local Business Gateway, Chamber of Commerce, Skills Development Scotland or Youth Business Scotland.

Some local authorities may also provide access to funding. This is often dependent on your business offering services the local community needs. For example, support may be available for businesses starting up in rural areas.

Check with your local authority's business support unit to find out what's available.

Your local authority may be able to help you find premises or put you in touch with business parks in the area. It may also run a Local Business Partnership, a group that consults with local businesses on regulations and reports to government.

4. Planning and building regulations

Your local authority is responsible for considering applications for planning permission, building regulations consent, and some other consents that you might need.

It can provide guidance on the circumstances in which you're likely to require these consents, and advice on the application process. Pre-application contact and discussion is also important, so that the required information is provided with the application, and a decision can be made within government time limits - otherwise the application may have to be refused.

You should check whether you need planning permission from your local authority before beginning building work or changing a building's use.

Building work often has to conform to building regulations, regardless of whether planning permission is needed. Your local authority has responsibilities for monitoring construction work and carrying out inspections to check compliance with these rules.

It's a good idea to seek guidance from your local authority before commencing work if you're unclear about any of the requirements.

If you are altering premises internally or externally that are listed as being of architectural or historical importance, you will need to apply to the local authority for listed building consent as well. Again, you should check the requirements before work begins.

5. Licensing and registration services

Local authorities have a range of responsibilities for licensing and registering certain types of business.

All businesses that supply alcohol, provide public entertainment events consisting of singing, dancing or a display of indoor sport, and those providing late night refreshments, must operate with a single premises licence from their local authority.

Such venues include:

  • pubs and bars
  • cinemas
  • theatres
  • nightclubs
  • night cafes

Businesses that serve alcohol under a premises licence must appoint a Premises Manager. The Premises Manager must hold a separate personal licence to supply or authorise the sale of alcohol. A personal licence only relates to the supply of alcohol and is not required for the other licensable activities.

Taxi and minicab drivers and firms also need to obtain a licence from their local authority. If you need a licence, apply as soon as you can before you want to start trading. The necessary police checks and road-knowledge tests can take some time to complete.

Massage services and businesses that pierce the skin, such as tattooing, cosmetic piercing and acupuncture, must also generally apply for a licence from their local authority's environmental health department.

Pet shops, boarding kennels, scrap-metal dealers, sex shops and street traders are also likely to need licences.

Your local authority should also be able to advise you on whether your business needs a licence, and how to go about getting one if it does.

6. Trading standards services

Your local authority's trading standards department is responsible for enforcing a range of laws on areas such as weights and measures, trade descriptions, consumer credit and product safety.

It can inspect trade premises in the local area to ensure compliance with these laws.

If a customer complains that you have breached trading standards law, your local trading standards service conducts an investigation. You must co-operate fully with their enquiries.

Trading standards departments have a range of options if they find you have breached the law - ranging from giving you advice or issuing an enforcement notice to prosecution.

Your local trading standards department can provide you with information and assistance to help you comply with the law - heading off problems before they arise.

Local authorities may also run courses that can help you learn more about trading standards - and possibly qualify for the Fair Trading Award.

7. Health and safety services

Your local authority's environmental health department has responsibilities for enforcing health and safety law.

Since 6 April 2009 businesses including those that were previously required to such as shops, offices, factories and certain railway premises, no longer need to register for health and safety with their local authority or with the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).

However, depending on your type of business, you may still have to register under other regulations. For example, food and catering businesses must continue to meet food standards registration requirements, which local authorities enforce. Your environmental health department will be able to tell you whether you still need to register and, if so, with which body.

Businesses are still required to report certain types of accidents or incidents to the environmental health department or the HSE.

Environmental health departments are responsible for inspecting businesses to ensure compliance. Officers can enter your workplace without notice to undertake an inspection or investigate complaints and serious accidents.

If inspectors discover breaches of the law, there's a range of action they can take. For minor problems they might simply suggest ways you could improve your health and safety practices.

In more serious cases they can issue an enforcement notice requiring you to take action. And at the top end of the scale you could be prosecuted. To report serious incidents you can call the HSE Incident Contact Centre on Tel 0845 300 9923.

Smoking is now banned in virtually all enclosed and substantially enclosed public places and workplaces. Enforcement officers from local councils are responsible for enforcing the ban and can impose fixed-notice penalties for failure to comply.

8. Environmental services

Businesses have a legal duty to dispose properly of the waste they produce - from packaging to day-to-day rubbish.

In some areas local authorities collect business waste for a fee. If your council doesn't provide this service you'll need to use a licensed private waste contractor. The local authority may be able to offer you contact details of licensed contractors.

Your council may also be able to advise you on waste minimisation techniques such as the recycling or reuse of old equipment or materials.

In some cases you may be able to take business waste to waste-disposal or recycling centres operated by the local authority - but you'll probably have to pay to do so.

Local authorities also have a number of other environmental responsibilities and powers, including:

  • monitoring and managing local air quality
  • dealing with nuisance complaints about excessive noise, vibration, dust and odour
  • the regulation of some businesses under pollution control regimes
  • environmental health issues such as pest control
  • issuing Street Litter Control Notices to premises which generate accumulations of litter or refuse

9. Food safety services

Your local environmental health department has responsibilities for enforcing food-safety law.

It carries out routine inspections of businesses which make, handle or sell food and is also responsible for investigating complaints from members of the public about contaminated food.

Your local environmental health department will be able to advise you on food safety issues and your legal requirements. It may also provide training courses in food hygiene.

Local authorities are also responsible for the registration of new catering businesses and for approving or licensing certain other types of food business before they begin trading.

Read our guide Developing new products and services.

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