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What is the model way of managing the town clerk?

+1 vote
I realise that that no individual 'councillor' can 'manage' the town clerk and that it's the role of the staffing committee, if there is one, collectively, or if not of the full council. However, what methods do councils find to do this effectively. Do any hold 1-1 meetings, carry out performance reviews. Also how to the larger councils ensure that other staff under the town clerk are being managed by the clerk appropriately and effectively?
by (230 points)

1 Answer

+1 vote
Model depends on the size of the Council. I work for small council so sub £80K precept - Small . We have an Annual appraisal of the Clerk (part time)  by the 'Staffing committee ' made up of three Parish Councillors.

As the Clerk i to do the annual appraisals of staff ( one partime handyman in one Council).

Timing is to do the Handyman before mine so that I can feedback any issues to the Staffing committee.
by (2.3k points)
And therein, out of the mouths of babes, lies the genuine and deep rooted paradox…

The clerkalmighty commands THREE Cllrs to conduct a simple part-time employee annual appraisal whilst holding them self in such high esteem as to believe the very same process to be within the gift of them self singularly when applied to others.
Rarely will there be such an obvious, self declared and empirical example of the illogical strangle hold exercised by this role.
Shakes head in frustration.
Wow, such vitriol. Perhaps this is how this council has decided to operate?
Well, no, actually, do you have anything constructive to add to the observation that 1 employee requires 3 people to conduct their appraisal but sees no problem in the fact that they want to do the same for others on their own….

Does that not strike you as odd at all?

Anyone who has at any time been involved in a business (not necessarily a local authority) that uses staff appraisals will be aware that it is common practice to use a cascade type approach to appraisals, i.e. a line manager/supervisor appraises the staff member that they are responsible for.  There are, of course, other models involving wider stakeholders but the end result is a meeting at which the appraiser meets with the appraisee following an agreed format.  There are plenty of examples but the ACAS website is helpful with procedures.
Where difficulties arise at town and parish council level is that it is the council as a whole that "manages" the clerk who is in effect similar in position to a CEO of a company, i.e. there is no single line manager who has authority make decisions on the performance of the individual.  As in industry/business, this is sometimes addressed by delegating authority to a committee such as HR/Staffing and sometimes setting up a separate group to conduct the appraisals but rarely if ever to a single individual.
I should add that appraisals are not disciplinary hearings.  Appraisals are an opportunity for the staff member and line manager(s)/appraisers to discuss and set targets and objectives, assess performance against those targets historically and identify what targets and objectives are required going forward.  As these will or should reflect the targets and objectives of the organisation as a whole (whether this be a business, local authority or indeed any employer), clearly these need to have been agreed by the organisation as a whole first.  Wherever I've worked over the years, appraisals have started at the top and worked downwards so that my agreed targets and objectives form part of the targets and objectives of those who report to me too.
That’s a very long way around to provide a statement of the obvious, completely avoid the fundamental question and demonstrate why our opinions diverge on so many issues.
Much of the reply is simply a regurgitation of fairly lame corporate organisational process.
Fundamentally where I think we disagree so often is however illustrated in your post where you see the clerk role as CEO and I simply do not. Is this a line that is being touted by ALCs and enthusiastically lapped up by clerks wishing to aggrandise their role?  It is patently nonsensical - if anything, and as has been presented (even by yourself) on these pages, a clerk role is actually more akin to office manager rather than CEO. At an absolute stretch, Company Secretary is considerably closer to reality than CEO. Please do look up the recognised definitions of these roles.
Anyone that had spent any time in any corporate structure would recognise this.
Maybe our difference of opinion also aligns with the scale of our relative councils?  What I mean by that is, if for example, a council had a £500k to a million precept, you might be getting somewhere sniffing towards such grand opinions and titles such as company secretary but there is no way on this earth a £15/hr clerk in an English parish is even stepping on the lowest level of day to day operational management. I’m sorry if that smarts - but they are just not.
You seemed to effectively skirt around the entire question of why a clerk might need a committee to undertake an appraisal (in stark comparison to what they see as acceptable singleton appraisal for others) by referring back to the so-called unique position a clerk supposedly holds.
I’ll lay my cards on the table - it is that so-called unique position, the perpetuation of it by incumbent clerks and the reinforcement of it by ALCs, plus the ignorance, idleness and / or lack of confidence and experience by Cllrs which absolutely perpetuates the antagonism between the council / clerk and leads to so many examples of pathetic claims for industrial tribunal.
You may find this approach ‘direct’ but it is not rude and it is not wrapping the scenario up in a sugar coating. It is simply an honest representation of my opinion.
What normally happens when such opinions are presented to public officials is that they refuse to engage claiming they are being bullied or the like.
It’s no wonder the public sector is in such disarray when nobody seems capable or willing of engaging in honest discourse.
You are of course entitled to your opinion but for the record, I am very familiar with the various roles of company secretary that you describe as I am a fully qualified company secretary myself and a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Governance (formerly known as the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators) and a former examiner for the Institute.  I used the phrase CEO to demonstrate that a town or parish clerk has no recognised hierarchy above the post in employment.  An office manager would have a senior that he/she reports to whereas a parish clerk has a council, i.e. a group (like the board of directors if you will) as a direct reporting line.  Hence a committee/group/council should form the basis of the appraisal of the clerk rather than a single councillor.  Who delivers the result of that committee/group's views is for the council to agree.  I fail to understand why this is difficult to grasp.

Frankly I find the clerk-bashing on this forum bizarre.  As a councillor I am required to work with my fellow councillors to deliver benefit to my local community. Whether I like it or not, councils are required to appoint a clerk/responsible officer/proper officer or whatever you wish to call it to deliver that service/benefit and in larger councils, there needs to be other staff too.   It is the responsibility of the collective council to appoint the right person to do that job and to manage that person in such a way that we work as a team.  I fully accept there are bad clerks and there are equally bad councillors but employment law should work to ensure bad clerks are dealt with in the same way bad employees are dealt with by any employer.   Bad or ineffective councillors on the other hand seem to be near impossible to deal with.

Finally on the subject of pay scales for parish clerks, I entirely agree with you that £15/hr is woefully inadequate for the level of responsibility of the post in even the smallest of parishes but that doesn't necessarily mean the post holder is incapable of fulfilling the requirements of the job description.  All expenses of running a parish fall to the electorate via the precept and small parishes (and some larger ones) simply don't have the electorate to fund higher salaries, however well deserved.  Again, it is the responsibility of the council and the council alone to ensure their clerk is the right person for the job, appropriately trained and equipped to undertake the role.
You might find this idealistic, but frankly until there is an alternative (and I've yet to see anything suggested), that's what we have to work within to do our job
Whilst accepting your point that a clerk is the senior employee, if this is the sole justification for your attribution of the CEO designator, then I am obliged to reflect upon the fragility of that justification and to reiterate how inappropriate I consider it to be when measured against the considerably broader definition of a CEO.
To accept your example would be akin to calling a horse a camel on the basis that it has 4 legs.
On your second point - clerk bashing. Is the forum full of clerk bashing? Really? I don’t think so. Unless having a forthright discussion about issues that are clearly widespread, national and of considerable concern to many is to be considered as ‘bashing.’  We have some fairly direct exchanges but I don’t consider myself to have been bashed. Everybody should be able to put their opinions across and not be subjected to the false claim of bashing. Thank you by the way for acknowledging that I’m entitled to express an opinion (above.)

I’ll present an alternative to the current system.
Clerks should be self employed rather than PAYE.
I know the immediate howl will be that HMRC have defined the role as an employee but how many people have read the HMRC BIM which makes that declaration?

It is quite clear to me that HMRC have been groomed into adopting that stance, probably bottle fed from NALC, into believing that the clerk is an ‘office holder’ and so cannot be SE.
Here’s the thing though - there is no compulsion upon a council to have the clerk as the RFO nor the proper officer. Those roles could be done by a Cllr.
I see the ‘clerk’ job title as needing to be separated into 3 distinct constituent parts:

Clerk - office manager, answer the phone, arrange meetings etc (minor admin function - £15/hr)

RFO - self employed or contract service provided by a 3rd party or a Cllr if SQEP.
PO - as above for RFO.
Everyone seems to recognise that the ‘clerk’ role has evolved immeasurably over recent decades but nobody seems to be acknowledging that if you pay peanuts you get monkeys.
It’s all very well saying a council
Is responsible for finding, recruiting, training and retaining the right person for the job - but the reality is who in their right mind would do that job for that money?  Nobody in their right mind….
I'm not going to continue with this as clearly we'll never agree on this one but I think your complaint is with the government and the Local Government Act which I do agree needs a complete overhaul.
And as a final note, a town council not a million miles from where I currently live was fined a very considerable amount of money for allowing their clerk to remain as self employed.  Of course the fine was paid ultimately by the electorate, several members of whom involved the police alleging fraud at the time and there was also a public interest report by the external auditors.  Many years later, local electorate haven't forgotten and even though the current council are in no way connected with the individuals involved at the time, there continues to be a total distrust of the local council by residents.  Messy and expensive business.

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