The Role of the Proper Officer to the Council (Clerk/Responsible Financial Officer) – Local Government Act 1972

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The Role of the (Proper Officer to the Council) Clerk/Responsible Financial Officer
(Taken from section 112 of the Local Government Act (LGA) 1972, section 101 of the
1972 and section 151 of the LGA 1972

Under the section 112 of the Local Government Act (LGA) 1972, a parish or town
(local) council shall appoint such officers as necessary for the proper discharge of
their functions. In short, it shall appoint a “proper officer”. The proper officer is
very often referred to as “the clerk (to the council)” but can be known by other
terms, such as Chief Executive.

Duties are set out in a job description and the role is covered by a contract of
employment. These should be in place for all local council clerks. There may
have been a bygone era where a clerk to a parish council was seen as carrying out
a service to the community in the way a councillor might by putting themselves
forward for election. This is no longer the case. The clerk is the professional,
independent officer to a statutory body which spends public money and the role
should be treated as such and paid accordingly. There are salary scale
recommendations for local council clerks with a National Agreement between the
National Association of Local Councils (NALC) and the Society of Local Council
Clerks (SLCC) to help councils calculate the correct salary for their clerk.

The clerk is adviser to the council. Part of their role is to provide information and
guidance as to the law to aid council members in the decision-making process.
The clerk carries out the actions arising from council meetings and implements
decisions. They are the point of contact and both send out and receive
correspondence. The clerk is the independent officer, s/he puts forward the view
of the council and writes and responds to all correspondence with this in mind.

Their role is to advise on the practical, legal and procedural nature of the
discussion and decision, and the issues that may arise.

Legally councils can delegate decisions to clerks because they are trusted professional officers, whose
objectivity allows them to act for them.

The clerk is not a secretary, or the personal assistant of the chairman or any
individual council members. The Clerk is the Proper Officer to the Council in law.
The clerk is employed by, and therefore answerable to, the council as a whole only
not to individuals and is instructed to carry out actions by full council or by committees
with delegated powers.

The agenda is the clerk’s responsibility; s/he must sign the agenda and send it to members.
S/he is also responsible for writing the minutes of full council and committee meetings
(sometimes done by committee clerks in larger councils). Minutes are intended to be an unbiased,
legal record of the decisions taken at a meeting. They are done by the clerk to ensure this
independence although they are agreed as a true record by the council (or committee and signed
by the Chairman).

Under section 101 of the LGA 1972, a local council may delegate its functions to
the clerk. It is common practice for councils to do this under certain circumstances.
A few examples are:

  • Making a decision in an emergency
  • Making decisions relating to health and safety – for example, if something is
    reported as damaged in a play area, it should not be left until a council
    to agree to get this fixed
  • Being allocated an agreed sum of money to spend on items to assist them
    in their work, this may include computer sundries, stationery and other office
  • Responding to planning applications which meet certain criteria – there can
    often be too many planning applications for a council to deal with in the time
    allotted by the principal authority, delegating the unambiguous applications
    which are not likely to raise controversy may be a way of expediting the

The clerk is often an expert in many fields. Each issue that arises in a council,
whether that focuses on planning, land, leases, contracts or any
number of the possible functions of a council, can bring its own issues, questions
and pitfalls.

Correspondence and research can take up a large amount of time as well as
attendance at outside meetings and training. A clerk should not be expected to
work in their own time or with their own funds.

Under s151 of the LGA 1972, a local council must appoint:

An officer to administer their finances and ensure all legislation to meet the
Transparency and Accountability regulations.

This officer is known as either the Responsible Financial Officer (RFO) or in
some cases the “151 officer” (in reference to the section of the Act). In many
councils the RFO is the clerk. The RFO compiles budgets and precept requests
and ensures that proper practices are undertaken in financial administration.