The political parties, elections and referendums act 2000 establishes a legal framework for the conduct of any referendum held across the UK or in Scotland, Wales, England or Northern Ireland. It also applies to regional referendums within England.
The Local Government Act 2000 sets out the governance arrangements for local authorities in England and Wales. Most local authorities, except some of the smaller district councils, operate "executive arrangements". Two types of executive arrangements are set out in the Act - a directly-elected mayor and cabinet, or a leader, who is elected as leader of the executive by the authority, and cabinet.
Since 2001, we have operated a leader and cabinet form of executive.
The act, and supporting regulations, require a local authority that receives a petition that complies with the regulations to hold a referendum on whether the authority should have the governance arrangements proposed in the petition.
Local residents can require a referendum on prescribed constitutional changes (for example, from leader and cabinet executive to mayor and cabinet executive) by organising a petition signed by five per cent of the local government electors on the electoral register. For North Yorkshire, in the year to 15 February 2014, this means 23,069 people.
Further information is available on the Electoral Commission website.
Referendums are used by some local councils to test public opinion on local issues. These are not regulated by law.