New housing and future construction skills: report

Independent Short Life Working Group report considering new and future housing construction skills and adapting and modernising for growth.

Chapter 4: Public Sector Statutory Skills Pipelines

The initiation of new housing developments are dependent on permissions and authorisations provided via statutory gateways involving local authority planning and building standards departments. Even if there is sufficient funding into house building industry trade skills and professions the delivery and supply of new homes is dependent on the availability of a sufficient supply of a skilled public sector workforce for planning and building standards.

The SLWG was provided with information and summaries from the local authority Heads of Planning group (HOPs) and Local Authority Building Standards Scotland (LABSS) which outlined the pressures on current staffing levels and also future regulatory changes and policies which will increase the work required. Both the Planning (Scotland) Bill and the future changes in building regulations and technical standards will require additional workloads for such staff. For building standards officers this may include further onsite inspections, increased building performance measures and increased compliance enforcement duties.

According to Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) [22] the number of new planning trainees has increased in the rest of the UK by 7% but this has not been the case in Scotland. Both RTPI and HOPS [23] have outlined key staffing issues and skills supply and recommended investment and support to encourage more people to consider planning as a career. Recent LABSS surveys [24] of the 32 local authorities found:

  • 81% of authorities stated that building standards teams have reduced in FTE numbers
  • potentially 25% of existing workforce may retire within the next 5 years

Recent education pathways such as graduate apprenticeships (GAs) have proved to be highly successful (SQA Levels 7-10). In 2018 the Construction and Built Environment (CBE) GA framework provided by Skills Development Scotland had a strong level of interest from companies interested in GAs for surveying routes such as building surveying, quantity surveying and real estate. More recently this included pathways such as architectural technology due to commence in 2019. It appears that both school leavers and parents are attracted to the GA route through the “work, earn and learn” approach.

If the sector is to attract more school leavers to consider planning and building standards officers roles as career pathways then the incorporation of such roles within this GA CBE framework may assist. Also embedding such career roles and pathways within such frameworks increases awareness to school careers officers of the routes available. Furthermore, as the four year GA route includes a significant level of work based learning and mentoring it also provides an opportunity to support skills transfer from one generation to the next, from expert and highly skilled planners or building standards officers who may retire in the coming years.

Both planning and building standards career pathways could be attractive to some who may wish to change their career direction and undertake accelerator training routes to enter such roles. One route may be via part-time diploma or Masters (MSc) routes (SQA Level 11). During the course of the SLWG period and additional discussions with house building companies, industry has suggested that if local authority building standards officers supply could not increase sufficiently then perhaps the government should re-consider allowing private building control providers for low rise housing. This has been through a consultation process in recent years.

The SLWG also discussed the significant importance of building standards officers roles in light of the Grenfell fire, Edinburgh schools Cole Report [25] and other events. Given the important health and safety aspects aligned to such issues the SLWG considered that the role of the building standards officer (verifier) should have increased importance aligned to the health and safety outcomes of technical standards both during and post construction. At present funding for planning and building standards departments is devolved to local authorities to decide. Local authorities may need to use their funding for other key areas and this may negatively impact planning and building standards departments. Given the significant importance in housing delivery, health and safety factors for building occupants and number of new regulations and future construction technologies which will require to be inspected, the SLWG considered that some form of ring fencing or additional funding should be provided for building standards departments. LABSS currently operates a type approval process to assess technical standards compliance of designs and drawings. The SLWG suggested that greater use and promotion of type approval processes both by local authorities and those organisations within the scheme and greater uptake by housebuilders may help with productivity and site development starts.


R.4.1 Investment in future Graduate Apprenticeship routes for new Building Standards Officers (BSO) and Planning Officers for Scotland (SQA Levels 7 and 11).

Note: During the SLWG period LABSS, Building Standards Division, Edinburgh Napier University and Glasgow Caledonian University have met with SDS GA staff and the CBE Framework for graduate apprenticeships has now been modified to include ‘Building Standards’. Both universities have offered to work together on a jointly delivered future graduate apprenticeship route.

R.4.2 Ring fenced funding for BSO roles aligned to health and safety outcomes post occupancy.

R.4.3 Greater use of ‘Type Approval’ processes by local authorities and industry through LABSS, where possible, may improve on-site progression and productivity.

Declaration of conflict of interest: The Chair of the SLWG is a non-executive director with an organisation which is included within one of the ‘Type Approval’ processes.



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