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5.0 Who are planners employed by?

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5.1 Summary and key findings
5.2 Employers of planners
5.3 Comparison with other built environment professions

5.1 Summary and key findings

This chapter explores the employers of planners in the UK. We estimate that:

  • Between 11-13% of planners are self-employed.
  • About 44% of planners work primarily in the private sector compared to 56% in the public sector, with an apparent trend towards a greater proportion of planners employed in the private sector in recent years.
  • Planners are more likely to have at least one public sector employer in Scotland (73%), Wales (72%) and Northern Ireland (76%) than in England (58%).
  • There are around 11,400 planners in the UK at least partially employed by local planning authorities, with about 10,500 only working for local planning authorities.
  • Amongst wider built environment occupations planners are amongst the least likely to be self-employed, and are the most likely to be employed in the public sector.

5.2 Employers of planners

Both the APS and RTPI Member Survey 2017 have information on the type of employer, including sector and self-employment.

Public and private sectors

The RTPI Member Survey 2017 asked respondents who were currently working to list their type of employer or employers. 59% of the UK town planning officer group had at least one public sector employer, 42% at least one private sector employer (including the self-employed), and 7% at least one third sector employer.[10]

To compare with the APS data we need to estimate what the sectoral breakdown would be in terms of primary employer based on the Member Survey data. And we need to group private and third sector employers into one category (the APS records them both as 'private). To estimate the proportions according to primary employer, we can break down the responses further.[11] Assuming that members employed in both public and private sectors would be equally likely to list each as their primary employers, we estimate that 57% of RTPI members are employed primarily in the public sector, and 43% in the private sector (including the third sector). This is very similar to the estimate in the APS, which estimates that 56% work in the public sector (around 12,300 planners) and 44% work in the private sector (around 9,700 planners).

Whilst there are some anomalous results, in the APS data it appears there is a trend of the public sector shrinking and the private sector growing since around 2009-10 (see Figure 4). Since there is no equivalent decline in the total number of planners over that period it appears most likely that this represents a transfer of planners from the public to private sectors.


[10] These findings were reported in January 2018 edition of The Planner, 'Insight: The RTPI Member Survey 2017'. The numbers in that analysis may be slightly different as the analysis in this report considers a slightly different group so as to enable comparability with the APS.

[11] The full figures and working for this can be seen in Appendix Table 13.

Figure 4: Proportion of planners in public and private sectors over time

 Figure 4

Source: ONS Annual Population Survey, filtered by SOC10M = 2432 (Planners). Result for each year is based on period ending September that year.

Female planners appear to be slightly more likely to work in the public sector though the data is variable. There is little difference in the APS estimates with women making up about 39% of the private sector and 42% of the public sector. However, if we use the Member Survey 2017 to look at who are at least partially employed in either sector there is a bigger difference. 45% of the group at least partially employed in the public sector were women compared to 35% in the private sector.

Finally, the RTPI Member Survey data suggests that the proportion of planners at least partially employed in the public sector is higher in Scotland (71%), Wales (71%) and Northern Ireland (76%) than in England (59%). This may relate to the increasing disparity between the planning systems in the different nations post-devolution. However, the Member Survey also suggests there is variation within England, with less than half of planners working in London and the North West at least partially employed in the public sector, compared to closer to three-fifths in most other parts of England, rising to seven out of 10 in the East Midlands.[12] Again, this must be taken with caution due to relatively small sample size and the fact that this is RTPI members working in UK town planning rather than all planners.

Self-employed Planners

The APS data estimates that 87% of planners (around 19,100) have an employer compared to 13% who are self-employed (around 2,900). This is similar to the 11% self-employed estimated for the UK town planning officer group in the RTPI Member Survey.

Other detail on employer type

The Membership Survey also asked for more detailed information on employers (see Figure 5).[13] It found the following proportions of members were at least partially employed by:

  • Public sector: local government (52%); central government (5%); and national agencies (4%). It also suggests around 88% of RTPI members at least partially employed in the public sector work in local authorities.
  • Private sector: national consultancies (14%); self-employed (11%); regional and local consultancies (8%); development companies (7%); house builders (6%); architectural and design practices (5%); and international consultancies (4%).


[12] Figures for each region and nation are available in Appendix Table 17.

[13] The full breakdown of employer types can be found in Appendix Table 12.

Figure 5: Most common employers of planners in UK

 Figure 5

Source: RTPI Member Survey 2017 filtered by 'UK town planning officer' Group. Values refer to proportion of respondents at least partially employed by each employer. Respondents may have more than one employer so percentages do not equal 100.

Likely number of local authority planners

Based on combining the Member Survey data on employer type and the APS data on total number of planners, we estimate that there are around 11,400 planners employed at least partially in local authorities in the UK, with around 9,200 of them working in England.

RTPI members and the wider planning profession

Given we have figures on the overall population of planners and data on RTPI members, we can estimate the likelihood of certain subsectors of planners being RTPI members. Based on the data we have it appears that the RTPI membership is closely representative of the profession as a whole in terms of type of employer. Accordingly, we can estimate where planners without the RTPI's professional accreditation ('missing members') are located. We estimate that there are around 3,100 missing members primarily employed in the public sector (including around 2800 primarily employed in local authorities). We estimate there are around 2,700 missing members primarily employed in the private and third sectors combined. Of course, these estimates are dependent on the accuracy of the estimates from the APS and the RTPI Member Survey.

5.3 Comparison with other built environment professions

The APS also records the public/ private and employed/ self-employed splits for other building environment professions.[14] Taking 5 year averages, the APS estimates that about 3% of architects and 13% of chartered surveyors are employed in the public sector. The tiny proportion of architects employed in the public sector is particularly interesting given that 50% were employed in the public sector as recently as 1976.[15] This is more dramatic than the shift from public to private sector in the planning profession. However, it indicates how much things can change. The APS also predicts that in this category of built environment professionals, planners are amongst the least likely to be self-employed (13%), with architects the most likely (37%).[16]


[14] The full data on public/ private splits for each occupation is available in Appendix Table 14.

[15] RIBA Building Futures, The Future for Architects?, 2011

[16] Full data on proportion of self-employed in each occupation can be found in Appendix Table 18.

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