Market Intelligence Local Authority Conservation Specialists Jobs Market 2015

RN2016/1, Jan 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.

Executive Summary

1. This Research Note summarises the job vacancies advertised largely on the IHBC’s web pages in 2015 under the section on ‘Jobs etc’. It provides a detailed picture of long-term trends in the market including job requirements, qualifications and levels of remuneration, together with regional variations.

  • The Institute’s data set now covers over 1650 posts over 18 years since 1998.
  • In 2015 posts advertised in England returned to their pre-recessionary level of c2007 up 34% over last year and a year-on-year improvement since 2011.
  • The unexpected emergence in 2014 of either temporary or part-time posts (or both) equalling those of permanent posts did not materialise again in 2015 and may be a one-off phenomenon.
  • The average median salary advertised posts in 2015 was £29,499 a fall of 3.4% on 2014 (and with the exception of 2012) a figure not so low since 2008 showing that salary levels remaining depressed.
  • The requirement among local planning authorities for applicants to be members of IHBC is a rising trend. 65% of advertised posts in 2015 considered this to essential or desirable (up from just under 40% in 2014) suggesting increasing brand recognition and the value placed on IHBC’s professional status and its set of competences.
  • Development management advice continued to dominate job functions with 61% of jobs identifying this as the principal role (up from 46% in 2014).
  • Seven of IHBC’s ten English Branches had more than ten advertised vacancies during 2015 with only the North, North West, and Yorkshire well below the vacancies elsewhere.


2. This annual review aims to complement information in the series of Local Authority Conservation Provision Studies undertaken after 2006 by IHBC with support from English Heritage and latterly by Historic England.

3. The Institute’s data set concerning advertised local authority conservation posts has been compiled since1998. This now comprises data on over 1650 posts going back 18 years. [1]

4. The current Note summarises the job vacancies in the calendar year 2015 enabling the Institute to build up a more detailed picture about the trends in the market including job requirements, qualifications, levels of remuneration and so forth, together with regional variations and other long-term trends.

5. 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 England only unless otherwise stated because the annual number of vacancies for the other Home Countries is too small to enable most of the meaningful statistical trends defined in England to be separately defined.

Size of the market

6. 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.

7. The local authority jobs market recovered strongly in 2015 by 34% over the preceding year to the level it was at in 2007. The jobs market - if taken from the nadir at the end of 2012 - has recovered steadily in each successive year. The annual review last year questioned how long this upward trend in numbers of posts would continue in the light of the continuing constraints on local authority expenditure. It has continued in the current year but a further squeeze on Council spending on front line services will be an inevitable consequence of the government’s November 2015 Comprehensive Spending Review and the continued strength of the market into 2016 remains unknown.

8. A surprising phenomenon in 2014-15 was the considerable increase in the number of either temporary or part-time advertised posts (or both). This equalled the number of permanent posts. In 2015 the market appeared to return to greater normality but this is dealt with further in paragraph 12 below.

General salary levels

9. Salaries are almost invariably expressed as a range. [2] Employers usually expect successful appointees to commence at the bottom of the quoted scale and progress upward on the basis of qualifications and experience. [3] Some posts set salary milestones regarding career progression, such as gaining an additional postgraduate qualification or professional institutional recognition such as full membership of IHBC.

10. The average starting salary in England in 2015-16 was £27,409 with the average finishing salary £31,490. This resulted in a median salary of £29,499 a decrease of 3.4% on the previous year and with the exception of 2012, this was a figure not seen since 2008 clearly showing salary levels remain depressed.

11. National averages can potentially to be distorted in two ways:

  1. by a small number of posts with unusually low starting salaries (typically graduate posts); or unusually high (typically senior management positions – mainly London); and
  2. by regional variations (typically higher salaries paid in London);

but as the numbers of posts increase the influence of such anomalies decreases and the increased number of advertised posts in 2015 has helped improve the robustness of the data. [4] Further comment about regional salary variations is made under Regional Variations below.

Balance of permanent posts to temporary & part time posts

12. Since 1998 when IHBC began analysis of local authority building conservation posts, the vast majority of vacancies in local planning authorities have been permanent posts. Where fixed term posts were advertised these were usually related to, for example, fixed-life grant schemes such as the HLF-funded Townscape Heritage Initiative [5] or short-term posts as cover for example, maternity leave [6] (some of these also being part-time). For a time a number of temporary or fixed-term jobs were also funded by the Planning Delivery Grant - particularly whose purpose was to carry out conservation area appraisals to meet the requirements of Best Value Performance Indicator 219. [7]

13. The phenomenon of either temporary or part-time advertised posts (or both) being equal to the number of permanent posts notable in 2014-15 was not repeated in 2015-16 and it remains unclear if impermanence will be a more notable facet of employment terms in the medium term.

Table 1. Permanent & temporary posts 2015 (2014 in italics)
Permanent 65 63.1% 34 63.1%
Fixed term 17 16.5% 21 31.3%
Fixed term and part time 7 6.8% 4 6.0%
Part time 14 13.6% 8 12.0%
TOTAL 103 100% 67 100%

14. Of the seventeen fixed term posts advertised in 2015, six were related to Townscape Heritage Initiative or other HLF supported projects [8] while the remainder were a mixture of project specific work (for example, surveys); general unspecific / wide-ranging heritage management duties and maternity cover. Two posts (of 24 months and 36 months duration respectively) were advertised alongside an identical permanent post where two employees were sought in each case. Beyond HLF supported posts, only two fixed-term appointments exceeded 24 moths duration.

Qualifications and expertise

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

Table 2. Educational Requirements (where IHBC membership was also a consideration)
Degree 22 21.4%
Degree + Post Graduate Qualification 8 7.8%
Degree + Post Graduate Qualification + IHBC 18 17.5%
Degree + IHBC 38 36.9%
Qualification 6 5.8%
Qualification + IHBC 6 5.8%
Post Graduate Qualification + IHBC 2 1.9%
Diploma standard + IHBC 1 1.0%
'IHBC' 2 1.9%
  103 100%

16. In addition to the requirements shown above, many job specifications stipulated degrees from any one of a range of disciplines (for example, 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.

17. For some posts membership of the RTPI was required in preference to or as an alternative to IHBC membership, but RIBA membership was specified in nine instances (two in 2014), RICS once and CIfA twice (nil in 2014).

18. A requirement to be a full member of IHBC (or less commonly to be working towards full membership) has become more established practice among local planning authorities in recent years. In 2015 sixty-seven of the advertised posts (65%) considered this essential or desirable (up from just under 40% in 2014). This suggests increasing brand recognition for IHBC and the significance of a recognised set of competences and professional status. The corresponding figures for 2012 and 2013 were 27% and 34% respectively. The requirement for candidates to be RTPI members has decreased at the expense of IHBC members.

19. Generally over time, the specific requirements for first qualifications for posts have become less clearly defined, that is, qualification 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 remained generally static. Just over 25% of posts stipulated this in 2015 compared with 24% in 2014. While post-graduate qualification may reflect the validation of a specialism in an increasingly fluid job market (and the nature of changing career paths) this does not yet seem to indicate added value to employers.

20. The Institute is aware that there has been a perception within the sector in recent years that the contraction of specialist posts in local authorities may have led to the specification of less rigorous requirement for educational qualifications or institutional membership.

21. While this demotion of specialist skills does not seem to be borne out by the job descriptions accompanying the posts advertised in 2015 - and there seems to be no discernible trend at present for local authorities to seek less specialized staff than in the past - it may well be that the less rigorous requirements for post-holders are not those that are being advertised. This concern regarding professional competence may possibly be the result of some local planning authorities transferring staff without the necessary conservation qualifications or expertise to heritage management duties. This procedure will not be apparent in the IHBC’s data sets because such posts are not externally advertised.

22. What has become increasingly evident is the problem of recruitment of suitable specialists. During 2015 twelve posts (that is, just under 12%) were re-advertised within six months, presumably because of a failure to recruit suitable candidates or employees leaving swiftly (for whatever reason) after appointment. One or two smaller rural authorities were noted to regularly advertise frequently over periods longer than six months suggesting (based on the timescale between individual recruitment advertisements) a high level of ‘churn’ and an inability to retain staff. These are aspects that the Institute will continue to keep under review.

Roles and responsibilities

23. 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 its specific priorities if necessary.

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

25. Development management advice continued to be given highest priority with a greater number of job descriptions (61%) identifying this as the principal function (compared to 46% in 2014). Of these posts 19% were exclusively devoted to development management advice or the processing of application and the associated appeals process and enforcement work.

26. This emphasis on development management may be the result of decreased staffing capacity over time. [9] Fewer staff prevents a wider range of work to be undertaken, has necessarily to be reactive rather than proactive; and as such does not represent a properly balanced heritage management service (see paragraph 30 and Endnote 9).

27. About one-third of posts identified conservation area character appraisals and management plans as a specific function but only 2% as a first priority of the post with the role added in random order after other first priorities (usually development management or policy related). The relatively low emphasis noted last year is considered to relate more to the scale of the task in hand rather than the fact that comprehensive coverage of appraisals and management plans to a good practice standard had already been achieved.

28. Notwithstanding the emphasis placed by Historic England on heritage-at-risk initiatives - including the training and use of voluntary groups to undertake surveys - this area of heritage management was not widely reflected in job descriptions with only 15% of job specifications identifying this as workload to be undertaken. This calls into question how local authorities will take forward the necessary statutory action identified by others.

29. Similarly, the preparation and adoption of Local Lists by local planning authorities was not identified as a priority, with only 4% of job descriptions identifying this as future work to be undertaken, notwithstanding the encouragement by Civic Voice and others to do so.

30. The analysis above does not necessarily imply that in some authorities these specific activities are not already being undertaken, nor that other tasks, such as offering technical and policy advice or schemes of regeneration or enhancement, are not being pursued; but their infrequency suggests these will not be priorities for new post-holders.

31. It may be concluded that the continued pressure on local authority resources is leading to the fulfilment of only a small range of key tasks that the authority can demonstrate meets its statutory functions, rather than what the Institute might consider to be a balanced, well-rounded service of the kind suggested by Annual Conservation Management Plans. [10]

Regional variations

32. The IHBC’s data sets made it possible determine regional variations in salaries for local authority conservation specialists for about a decade until 2009 when the volume of advertised posts per annum thereafter fell to too low a level for any meaningful conclusions to be made until last year - indeed after 2009 for several years in several regions no advertised vacancies arose. The figures for 2015 are set out in Table 3.

33. In 2015 seven regions [11] the number of advertised vacancies ranged from ten to fourteen. Only in the North (2), North West (4), and Yorkshire (4), were the numbers well below elsewhere and where the sample sizes require more caution about the figures.

34. The recovery in the number of advertised vacancies noted under Size of the Market above allows a more robust analysis. Unsurprisingly, based on the English median salary scales (see paragraph 10 above), those in London have been consistently higher than in other regions, reflecting higher living and travelling costs. These have consistently influenced the national averages since the data was first collected in 1998.

35. 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 and high numbers of heritage assets). In 2015 London and South East median salaries were about 12% higher than the English average and South 9% higher. Salaries in the North West, South West and West Midlands were between 1.5% and 3% lower than average (although as noted in 33 above the North West sample was a small one).

36. The South West, West Midlands and Yorkshire have generally over the long run paid well below the national average, but equally consistently been based on relatively smaller samples than in other areas.

37. East Anglia and the East Midlands have in the past paid median salaries closely aligned to the national average and this remains the case, particularly in the case of the former.

Table 3. Regional Variations in Median Salaries 2015
Region Sample Median (£) Variation (%)
East Anglia 14 29,463 +0.04%
East Midlands 15 30,079 +2.14%
London 14 32,994 +12.04%
North 2 31,356 +6.46%
North West 4 28,562 -3.01%
South 14 32,117 +9.06%
South East 11 33,189 +12.70%
South West 14 28,698 -2.58%
West Midlands 10 28,980 -1.59%
Yorkshire 4 31,484 +6.94%
Total 102 (30,375)  

Concluding Note

38. As noted last year, the collapse of the local authority jobs market over a four-year period from 2009-2012 resulted in several years of very small sample sizes and a discontinuity of some trend data, which it is now only partly being overcome including better information on regional trends, now that the number of vacancies has returned to the levels they were at in 2007.

39. The Institute intends to web-publish a further market intelligence report on the local authority conservation specialist jobs market for 2016 in January 2017.



[1] Between 1998 and c2009, information concerning local authority vacancies were drawn principally from the weekly pages of Planning magazine. 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 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 drawn from these two sources is thought to be near definitive.

[2] Although occasionally only a fixed starting of finishing salary is stated. Ranges are usually given even for when appointments are short or fixed -term.

[3] In the past salary progression was also on the basis of an annual increment within the overall scales but the steps within the quoted range are usually short.

[4] 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 that is generates typical ‘smoothed’ starting salary of £28,897; a finishing salary £33,084; and a median of £30,990.

[5] For the preliminary phase of HLF-funded schemes this would usually be a period of about 6 to 12 months and for the implementation phase, typically of 3 to 5 years.

[6] Some of the posts covered being part-time in the first place.

[7] This national performance indicator was trialled in 2004-5 and introduced in 2006 but abandoned by central government in 2010. Some authorities undertook a programme of appraisals in anticipation of a future national requirement for service uplift, while others simply used the indicator as a pretext to justify additional resources for conservation services. The problems with the indicator were various, not least it not actually being an indicator [as it did not encourage service improvement]. Many authorities also had such a backlog of too many appraisals to complete so they could not justify the long-term resource commitment.

[8] Includes Sunderland Pier Project, and ranges from 24 to 60 months in duration.

[9] For example, an authority which previously had 2 or 3 staff could do more varied work than one with less than 1 person in post. Greater staffing allows the ‘luxury’ of work outside the reactive nature of development management.

[10] See IHBC Guidance Note: Annual Conservation Management Statements – Best Practice GN2014/2 Sept 2014 Accessible at:

[11] Corresponding in area to the relevant IHBC Branch.