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Local authority conservation specialists jobs market 2014

This article was written by The Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC). It was written by Bob Kindred MBE BA IHBC MRTPI and published in March 2015. You can see the original text on the IHBC website.


Executive summary

This annual review is intended to complement the series of Local Authority Conservation Provision Studies undertaken by IHBC with support from English Heritage that commenced in 2003.

The Institute has been collecting data on advertised local authority conservation posts since 1998 and now comprised information related to over 1,550 vacancies over 16 years. The current Note summarises the job vacancies in the calendar year 2014 enabling the Institute to build up a more detailed picture about the trends in the market including job requirements, qualifications, levels of remuneration etc, together with regional variations and other long-term trends.

Between 1998 and c2009, information concerning local authority vacancies were drawn principally from the weekly pages of Planning magazine. [1] Thereafter the decline in planning related posts, the switch to a fortnightly publication of Planning coupled with the development of the IHBC’s web-based jobs pages [2] saw the advertising of conservation posts move almost exclusively from the former to the latter. Although posts may occasionally be advertised elsewhere, the data in this Note is drawn from these two source is thought to be near definitive.

The Institute monitors vacancies on a weekly basis and although this covers England, Scotland and Wales (but not Northern Ireland), the statistics in this Note relate to principally to England unless otherwise stated because the annual number of vacancies for the other Home Countries are too small to enable most meaningful statistical trends to be separately defined.

Size of the market

Posts advertised in England grew steadily in the late 1990s to a peak of 158 per year in 2003-4 before falling again until the start of the Recession. In 2008-9 the annual level shrank back to 93, the same number of vacancies as in 1999-2000. Thereafter the decline was precipitous and in both 2010-11 and 2011-12 there were only 26 vacancies per year covering all English local planning authorities.

From this nadir at the end of 2012, the jobs market has recovered steadily in each successive year. In the last two years the increase has been just over 42%, ie from 33 posts in 2012-13 to 47 in 2013-14 and 67 in 2014-15. How long this upward trend will be maintained in the light of continuing constraints on local authority expenditure remains unclear.

It was notable that in 2014-15 there were significantly fewer permanent full-time positions than in preceding years.

General salary levels

Salaries are almost invariably expressed as a range. Furthermore it is usually expected that successful appointees will commence employment at the bottom of the quoted scale and progress upward on the basis of qualifications and experience. Some posts set salary milestones regarding career progression, such as gaining an additional post-graduate qualification or professional institutional recognition such as full membership of IHBC.

The average starting salary in England in 2014-15 was £28,103 with the average finishing salary £32,725. This resulted in a median salary of £30,414 a slight decrease (0.4%) from the previous year. Median salaries in 2014-15 have dipped in the previous two years by almost 5% and have not yet recovered to their highest recorded level of £30,588 in 2011-12.

These national averages have the potential to be distorted in two ways:

  • by a small number of posts with unusually low starting salaries (typically graduate posts); or unusually high (typically senior management positions – mainly London); and
  • by regional variations (typically higher salaries paid in London). Further comment about regional salary variations is made below.

To compensate for the effect of unusually low or unusually high ends of salary ranges a comparative analysis is also made by subtracting the three highest and three lowest starting and finishing salaries during the year from the overall sample. This nevertheless generates very similar figures to the overall averages above, ie generates typical ‘smoothed’ starting salary of £28,032; a finishing salary £32,718; and a median of £30,375.

Balance of permanent posts to temporary and part time posts

Over the period since 1998 the vast majority of vacancies in local planning authorities were permanent posts, although fixed term posts also existed for example the preliminary or implementation phase of HLF-funded schemes such as the Townscape Heritage Initiative. For the former the duration of the post generally ranged from 6 to 12 months, for the latter - a period of usually 3 to 5 years.

Similarly, while a small number of short-term posts would act as cover for maternity leave (some of these being part-time), 2014-15 marked a very noticeable decrease in full-time permanent posts that could not be ascribed to lottery of maternity cover.

It was notable that in 2014-15 either temporary or part-time advertised posts (or both) equalled the number of permanent posts. The extensiveness of this impermanence is a very recent phenomenon. In the first half of the year temporary or part-time vacancies ran well ahead of full-time permanent posts but rather less so in the second-half.

Table 1. Permanent & temporary posts %
Permanent 34 50.1
Fixed term 21 31.3
Fixed term and part time 6 6.0
Part time 8 12.0
Total 67 100

There may be a number of reasons for this including the downgrading of some specialist conservation roles from full time to part time; reappointment to a new part time conservation post following the complete loss of a previous conservation service and period without provision; appointment to a post where hours were reduced due to phased retirement of a previous incumbent and not made back up when the post was filled; the outcome of the merger of the conservation functions of two or more planning authorities; and or uncertainty about the future of local authority finances.

Whether the insecurity of tenure engendered by this trend is just confined to 2014-15 or a reflection of the future patterns of employment in local government may not be clear for several more years.

Of the 21 fixed term posts advertised in 2014-15, 7 were related to Townscape Heritage Initiative projects and 5 for Conservation Area and/or Buildings at Risk work. The remainder were primarily directed towards development management advice, regeneration projects or general unspecific/wide ranging heritage management. Beyond HLF supported posts, few of these fixed term appointments exceeded two years duration.

Qualifications and expertise

The stated educational requirements for posts varied significantly in 2014-15 as set out in Table 2.

Table 2. Educational Requirements %
Degree 24 35.8
Degree + Post Graduate Qualification 11 16.4
Degree + Post Graduate Qualification + IHBC 7 10.4
Degree + IHBC 16 23.9
Qualification 5 7.5
Qualification + IHBC 2 3.0
Post Graduate Qualification + IHBC 1 1.5
Education to A-Level standard 1 1.5
Total 67 100

In addition to the specific requirements shown above, many job specifications stipulated degrees from any one of a range of disciplines (eg Planning, Architecture, Urban Design, Conservation). Some posts did not require qualification in a heritage related discipline, merely requiring education to degree level and this similarly held true for some vacancies requiring post-graduate qualifications.

For some posts membership of the RTPI was required in preference to or as an alternative to IHBC membership, but RIBA membership was only specified in two instances, and Archaeology not at all.

A requirement to be a full member of IHBC (or less commonly to be working towards full membership) has become more common practice among local planning authorities in recent years and in 2014-15 just under 40% of the posts advertised specified IHBC Membership. The corresponding figures for 2012 and 2013 were 27% and 34% respectively.

Generally over time, the specific subject requirements for first qualifications have become less specific, ie to degree standard rather than for example a degree in planning, but the stipulation of the need for a post-graduate qualification in conservation has increased. This may reflect the validation of a specialism, but also the increasing fluidity of the job market and the nature of changing career paths. The requirement for RTPI membership has decreased at the expense of IHBC membership.

Notwithstanding the perception within the sector that the contraction of specialist posts in local authorities in recent years might have led to the specification of less rigorous requirement for educational qualifications or institutional membership, this does not seem to be borne out by the posts advertised in 2014-15, ie there seems to be no discernable trend at present for local authorities to see less specialised staff than in the past. This is an aspect that will be kept under review.

Roles and responsibilities

A degree of caution is required in evaluating the workload priorities set out in job descriptions as the proportions of time expected to be devotes to individual tasks is rarely stated, nor are these necessarily adhered to in practice; nevertheless, when post-holders change, the preparation or updating of the job description enables the authority to refocus on its specific priorities if necessary.

In practice it is inevitable that short-term, time-limited, high priority workload such as development management advice usually takes precedence over large-scale, long-term workload such as the resolution of buildings-at-risk. This was reflected during the year in the range of functions newly appointed local authority conservation specialists were asked to perform.

Development management advice (and associated appeals and enforcement work) was given highest priority with 46% of job descriptions identifying this as the principal function, and 21% of these posts were exclusively devoted to development management.

Only 6% of posts identified conservation area character appraisals and management plans as the first priority of the post, although 10% of job descriptions identified this as the second priority. The relatively low emphasis is thought to relate more to the scale of the task in hand than that comprehensive coverage of appraisals and management plans to a good practice standard had already been completed.

Townscape Heritage Initiative posts represented 10% of the posts advertised in 2014-15, all of these being fixed term appointments.

Notwithstanding the emphasis placed by English Heritage on heritage-at-risk initiatives, a specific task to address this area of work was not widely reflected in job descriptions. Only 6% of posts identified this as workload to be undertaken.

Similarly, the preparation and adoption of Local Lists by local planning authorities was not identified as a priority, with only 4.5% of job descriptions identifying this as future work to be undertaken, notwithstanding the encouragement by Civic Voice and others to do so.

The analysis above does not necessarily imply that in some authorities these specific activities are not already being carried out, nor that other tasks, such as offering technical and policy advice or schemes of regeneration or enhancement, are not being undertaken; but the absence does not obviously suggest these will be the future priorities for new post-holders.

It may be concluded that pressure on local authority resources is leading to a concentration on a requirement only to fulfil a small range of key tasks, rather than what the Institute might consider to be a balanced, well-rounded service.

Regional variations

Throughout most of the past 17 years it has been possible to determine patterns of regional variation in salaries for local authority conservation specialists. The volume of advertised posts per annum over the period 1998-9 to 2008-9 was sufficiently large to enable trends and conclusions to be drawn. However, the numbers of advertised vacancies after 2009-10 were too small for any meaningful conclusions to be made - indeed in several regions no advertised vacancies arose.

The recent recovery in the number of advertised vacancies allows some cautious indications to again be extrapolated for 2014-15 based on the conclusions from the significant amount of data up to 2009.

Unsurprisingly, based on the median, the salary scales in London in 2014-15 were significantly higher than in other regions. These have consistently influenced the national averages since data was first collected in 1998.

Pay in the South and South East over the long-term has also been consistently somewhat higher than the national average (possibly influenced by the proximity to London) although prior to 2008 this higher figure was notably higher in the South East than the South although more recently these positions have been reversed, ie the higher average figures are now in the South.

The South West, West Midlands and Yorkshire have generally over the long run paid well below the national average, but it should be noted that figures for Yorkshire (together with the North) have been persistently based on relatively small samples and are consequently less robust.

East Anglia and the East Midlands have in the past paid median salaries closely aligned to the national average, but in 2014-15 both regions fell behind as did the North West where significantly lower average pay scales for new appointees were also noticeable.

Regional Variations in Median Salaries.jpg

Concluding note

Notwithstanding the substantial workforce database complied since 1998, the collapse of the local authority jobs market in c2010-11 resulted for several years in very small sample sizes. This created a discontinuity of some trend data which it is only now possible to address as the number of vacancies has returned to the levels they approach six years ago.

It is hoped that some of these issues will be addressed in the market intelligence report on the local authority conservation specialist jobs market 2015 that the Institute intends to web-publish in the early part of 2016.

This is one of a series of occasional IHBC Research Notes published by The Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC).

IHBC Research Notes offer current and recent research into topics that we consider crucial to the promotion of good built and historic environment conservation policy and practice. The Notes necessarily reflect knowledge and practice at the time they were developed, while the IHBC always welcomes new case examples, feedback and comment to for future revisions and updates.

--Institute of Historic Building Conservation 08:18, 22 Jun 2016 (BST)

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