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Clerk to the Parish

The history of the Clerk 

In 1439, Symkyn Birches was awarded the office of "Toun Clerk" of Coventry for the rest of his life and the position became commonplace as local government developed throughout England and Wales.

In 1835 the Municipal Corporations Act required every borough council to appoint a salaried Town Clerk.  The position of Clerk was further consolidated by the Local Government Acts of 1888 and 1894 which granted, respectively, County Councils and then Urban and Rural Districts and the newly created civil parish councils the specific power to appoint a “Clerk of the Council”.

The importance of the Clerk’s position was underlined by Lord Justice Caldecote ruling in Hurle-Hobbs ex parte Riley and another (1944) observed: "The office of town clerk is an important part of the machinery of local government.  He may be said to stand between the local Council and the ratepayers.  He is there to assist by his advice and action the conduct of public affairs in the borough and, if there is a disposition on the part of the council, still more on the part of any member of the council, to ride roughshod over his opinions, the question must at once arise as to whether it is not his duty forthwith to resign his office or, at any rate, to do what he thinks right and await the consequences."

By the early 1970s there was a significant change in the theory of local government’s managerial leadership. At the same time, whilst parish councils were strengthened under the 1972 Act, they continued to mainly have one salaried officer who continued to be known as “The Clerk”.

Since the 1970’s the role and functions of parish, community and town councils have increased immeasurably and many such local councils have budgets running into millions and employ many staff.  The chief officers of such councils often feel the title Clerk does not properly reflect their important managerial role.  Even in the smallest parish council, it is often thought “clerk” suggests a secretary with some admin skills and does not reflect the many other roles the modern parish council officer must fulfill, including legal and financial advisor, publicity officer, events organiser, staff supervisor etc.  As a result there is a growing use of other titles such as Council Manager and Executive Officer.  

In 2011 the Society of Local Council Clerks (SLCC) surveyed its members on the subject and their views were very mixed. 51% of respondents wanted a change in title and just under half of them wanted it to be “Council Manager”.  However 32% of replies felt the title was an historic and honourable one and should be left alone, some referring to titles such as “Clerk of the Court” or “Clerk of the House of Commons”.  A further 17% wanted to keep the title but felt that more work should be done to improve the image it portrays.  Faced with this response, SLCC has concluded that there was insufficient mandate to effect a change at the present time.