Clerk to the Council

Photo of Melanie Wathen

Melanie started working in Local Government in 1992 as a Recreation Assistant before moving into office based roles at Southampton City Council.

Melanie left Southampton City Council in 2007 to take up the role of Parish Clerk at Marchwood.  This role was very varied and in addition to the normal responsibilities and tasks included organising a royal visit and large live music events. Melanie left Marchwood in 2018 to start working for the family business and The Romsey Show.

After being made redundant at the start of the Covid pandemic Melanie returned to Clerking and joined Headley Parish Council in East Hampshire. This position varied from that at Marchwood as she now had allotments and woodlands to look after.

Melanie joined Lyndhurst Parish Council in May 2022 after leaving Headley for somewhere nearer to home.  She is looking forward to the challenge of running a parish with even more facilities including a Cemetery.

Role of the Clerk

The role of Clerk is to ensure that the Council as a whole conducts its business properly (in accordance with the law on how parish councils should operate) and to provide independent, objective and professional advice and support – a competent Clerk underpins a good Council.

The Clerk to the Council will be the Proper Officer of the Council (a role defined in the legislation) and as such is under a statutory duty to carry out all the functions, and in particular to serve or issue all the notifications required by law of a local Authority’s Proper Officer.

The Clerk is expected to advise the Council on, and assist in the formation of, overall policies to be followed in respect of the Authority’s activities and in particular to produce all the information required for making effective decisions and to implement constructively all decisions. The Clerk looks after how the council operates as a council – its overall governance, the policies/procedures, terms of reference etc. These do not include how a council operates as an employer – that lies with the whole council although it may decide to delegate its responsibilities to a specific committee. However, the accountability always remains with the full council. The person appointed will be accountable to the whole Council for the effective management of all its resources and will report to them as and when required.

The Councillors sitting on committees and the full council vote on resolutions. These are in effect what the Council wishes to do.  The Clerk will be totally responsible for ensuring that the instructions of the Council in connection with its function as a Local Authority are carried out.

The Clerk will be the Responsible Financial Officer (a role defined in the legislation) and responsible for all financial records of the Council and the careful administration of its finances.

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.

A job description will always list the duties in detail but here’s a useful summary:

  • To ensure that statutory and other provisions governing or affecting the running of the Council, as a local authority, are observed.
  • To receive correspondence and documents on behalf of the Council and to deal with the correspondence or documents or bring such items to the attention of the Council. To issue correspondence as a result of instructions of, or the known policy of the Council.
  • To prepare, in consultation with appropriate members, agendas for meetings of the Council and Committees.
  • To ensure that the public is aware of meeting times and that agendas and minutes are published within the guidelines.
  • To attend such meetings and prepare minutes for approval.
  • To implement the council’s decisions
  • To oversee the operation of working groups and the implementation of projects
  • To supervise staff (if any)
  • To keep property registers and other legal documents
  • To monitor and balance the Council’s accounts and prepare records for audit purposes and VAT.
  • To receive and report on invoices for goods and services to be paid for by the Council and to ensure such accounts are met. To issue invoices on behalf of the Council for goods and services and to ensure payment is received.
  • To ensure that the Council’s obligations for Risk Assessment and Health & Safety are properly met.
  • To maintain an awareness of developments in the law and best practices associated with the activities of the Council and to produce reports for circulation and discussion by the Council.
  • To draw up both on his/her own initiative and as a result of suggestions by Councillors proposals for consideration by the Council and to advise on practicability and likely effects of specific courses of action.
  • To prepare, in consultation with the Chairman, press releases about the activities of, or decisions of, the Council.
  • To undertake personal training and development for example attending training courses or seminars on the work and role of the Clerk, to acquire the necessary professional knowledge required for the efficient management of the affairs of the Council.  The National Training Strategy has developed a customised qualification for the sector, the Certificate in Local Council Administration (CiLCA).  This core skills qualification is awarded to those who submit a portfolio of evidence, within 24 months of registering, demonstrating the skills they have in local council administration.