Role of the Parish Clerk
The first Clerk was appointed in 1439 and more information can be found on our Parish Clerk History page.
Becoming a Clerk to a Parish or Town Council is one of the most rewarding jobs in a local community - a competent Clerk underpins a good Council.
The role of Clerk is to ensure that the Council as a whole conducts its business properly and to provide independent, objective and professional advice and support.
Being a Clerk puts you in the centre of things.
Parish and Town Councils (there is no difference except in name) are the lowest tier of local government and exist to provide services and facilities at a local level working with Principal Authorities. (District, Borough, County Councils and Unitary Authorities.
District councils are responsible for local services including housing, local planning and refuse collection.
County Council's are responsible for strategic services such as highways, education, libraries, social services, strategic planning and refuse disposal.
In some areas (including Buckinghamshire), District Council's and the County Council have been combined into one Unitary Authority.
In addition to the Clerk, council's may have a Responsible Financial Officer (RFO) who is responsible for the council's finances; in smaller councils the role of RFO is often filled by the Clerk.
Parish Councils are funded by a Precept which is a levy provided by the District or Unitary Authority which is collected together with council tax.
Each year the council's accounts and procedures are examined by an Internal Auditor. Read the full details of the role and responsibilities of the Internal Auditor
All Parish Council meetings are open to the public. They are led by the Council's Chairman and advised by the Clerk who is there to see that business is conducted within the law.
A job description will always list the duties in detail but here's a useful summary:
- ensures that the council conducts its business lawfully
- administers all the council's paperwork
- ensures that meeting papers are properly prepared, that the public is aware of meeting times and that agendas and minutes are published within the guidelines
- implements the council's decisions
- oversees the implementation of projects
- supervises staff (if any)
- keeps property registers and other legal documents
- keeps up to date by training /qualification
It is very important to understand that being a Clerk to a Parish or Town Council is a job not a spare time activity - even if it takes only a few hours each week to do.
Councils should operate nationally recognised rates of pay and conditions. They should expect a clear job description, a contract of employment and pay in accordance with national rates for the size of council
Skills and attributes needed include a good deal of common sense, confidence to handle the administrative work, being a good organiser, IT literate and able to get on with most people. Underwriting these qualities is a sense of public duty - of wanting to help others in the community.
The job is no different from large to small councils. What is different however is the amount of time needed to deal with the volume of business. For small parishes this need be only a few hours each week while for the larger councils it could be a full time commitment.
Most council meetings are held 'out of hours' so being a part time clerk is not just a daytime activity.
Various courses are available and a lot of learning will take place on the job during meetings at District/Borough/County/Unitary level where you will meet other clerks and start to get answers to the many questions you will have. Training is also available through the Society Of Local Council Clerks (SLCC) and The National Association Of Local Councils (NALC). All clerks/councils should be members of these organisations as they are the only way to receive new information and updates in local government legislation.
Further opportunities include structured training and study, leading, if you choose, to degree level qualification. You can then go on to complete the nationally recognised Certificate in Local Council Administration (CiLCA). Some councils may require that you obtain this qualification as a condition of employment.
The Local Government Act 1972 was the start of Parish and Town Councils as we know them today. This Act has been amended and received various additions ever since to which the Parish Clerk needs to be conversant but, from 2000 we have seen many pieces of new legislation which has increased the responsibilities of the clerk exponentially; The Freedom of Information Act 2000, The Localism Act 2011, The Data Protection Act 2018 which includes the General Data Protection Regulation, are those which have created the largest impact on parish clerks recently. In addition there have been numerous ammendments and additions to these Acts including changes to financial regulations, all requiring the clerk to keep up to date in the administration of the council and in advising and guiding the council members.