Employment conditions for local authority planners appear to be slightly on the up, according to Planning's Careers and Salary Survey 2015.
Our poll of 476 planners at councils, planning consultancies and other private sector employers shows that the most common pay bracket for local authority respondents was £35,000 to £40,000 in 2015, compared to £30,000 to £35,000 in 2014.
Anna Rose, Planning Officers Society vice-president and planning director at Milton Keynes Council, says local authorities have been looking to retain staff. "There's a really difficult recruitment market at the moment for local authorities," she says. "They will up wages to retain the planners they've got who they don't want to lose."
Rose said councils are beginning to act more like businesses. "Large unitaries have well-refined pre-application processes and planning performance agreements that allow them to recruit to the applications as they come in. They can therefore afford more experienced staff," she says.
Daryl Phillips, joint chief executive at Hart District Council, adds that there is a "small pool of good-quality planners". He says: "Private and public sectors are looking at the same pool, and therefore you've got to be a little bit more competitive."
The survey also showed salary review discrepancies between council respondents and those working for consultancies or private sector employers. In 2015, three per cent of local authority staff received a three per cent or better pay rise in their last pay review, compared to 45 per cent of consultancy or private sector staff. Only one per cent of council employees received a five per cent rise or more, compared to 27 per cent of consultancy and other private sector staff.
Responses suggest that this trend may continue, with 81 per cent of local authority respondents expecting their next pay review to lead to a rise of one per cent or less, while 37 per cent of consultancy or private sector respondents expect three per cent or more.
Phillips says planning consultancies tend to have more choice about paying staff based on performance. "Local authorities have a pay policy that applies as a whole, so if a council goes for a 'no pay rise' policy, planners will get caught up in that."
The survey suggests council planners enjoy more annual leave than their private sector peers. The most common council response in this category was between 26 and 30 days' annual leave a year, compared to 21 to 25 days for consultancy or private sector staff. A further 26 per cent of local authority respondents get 31 days per year or more of annual leave, compared to just three per cent of consultancy or other private sector staff.
There is also a clear divide in working hours. A total of 87 per cent of local authority respondents work 36 hours a week or more, compared to 92 per cent of consultancy or other private sector planners. But the gap widens as working hours increase, with 20 per cent of private sector staff clocking up 46 hours per week or more, compared to just 6.5 per cent of local authority respondents.
Chris Hicks, planning director at consultancy CgMs, says working hours in planning consultancies have historically been longer than at councils. "It's part and parcel of the job," he said. "We've got deadlines that can't be missed, so generally speaking the hours are longer in a consultancy."
Overall, men typically earn more than women in both public and private sectors. In the former category, the gap is most prevalent among non-managers, with the most common pay bracket for men being £35,000 to £40,000, compared to £25,000 to £30,000 for women. But remuneration evens out for managers who are responsible for between one and five staff, with £35,000 to £40,000 being the most common bracket for both men and women.
Phillips said local authority staff in the same grade will be paid the same rate, regardless of sex. "I have never come across women being disadvantaged by pay, in either the private or public sector planning workforce," he says. But he adds: "In a local authority team, you get people moving up the system. Whether male or female, they get the same chance. But you do often find people in certain grades who don't move because they are either part-time or have taken career breaks, so they don't get the same opportunity to move up the system. Quite often, they may well be female. The same will happen with private consultancies."