The online resource for the historic environment

5.04 Identification and selection of advisers and contractors

To assist your understanding of this Unit see BS 7913: 2013:
Section 8: "Project management."
Annex A: "Conservation accreditation schemes."

“There is hardly anything in this world that some men cannot sell a little cheaper and make a little worse. Those who consider price only are this man’s lawful prey.”
John Ruskin 1865

This is a useful quotation here, not only because its originator was John Ruskin, but also because it encapsulates a philosophy that is apposite to the conservation process. Good quality intervention work is usually executed by people with a good skills base and with extensive and focused expertise in their field. Such abilities, gained through experience, are not usually cheap but it is essential to tap that expertise if the historic environment is not to be damage by inexpert advice and by the use of inexperienced and low skilled contractors. This is not to imply that only the most expensive firm or individual is likely to achieve the best result, far from it, but it is incumbent on you to adequately assess the ability of advisers and contractors to achieve the best result possible without loss or damage to the historic environment. There should be a process in place in any project involving the historic built environment to ensure that all people working on the project are aware of the significance of that building.
See also BS 7913: 2013 para 8.1 "General."
See also BS 7913: 2013 para 3.2 for its definition of "Competent person."
See also BDS 7913: 2013 Annex A: "Conservation accreditation schemes."

You will need to demonstrate that you have undertaken such assessment and have structured an appropriate response to the selection of advisers and contractors whilst measuring experience and cost against project budget. Contractors and advisers should be chosen because they have core competencies and skills focused by expertise and experience in the heritage sector of the construction industry. They should have an understanding of the importance of the historic built environment and the need to protect its significance. They should also have clear understanding of and be able to implement works and use methods and materials that are contemporary with the original fabric on which you are asking them to work: you need to develop the ability to assess and recognise those third party skills.

“Value for money will not necessarily be secured by competition for lowest bid price alone.”
Cox & Townsend.(1998) Strategic Procurement in Construction Thomas Telford

The Atkins Report suggested that poor quality is one of the major problems in the EC construction industry, exacerbated by low skills and poor reputation. The heritage must not be damaged by using poorly trained and low skilled contractors with limited experience, such contractors should not be considered appropriate for work within the heritage sector: such work requires a commitment to understanding of the specific factors affecting the protection of heritage and an ability to translate that knowledge into skills applicable to work on and within the historic environment.

“Research commissioned by the NHTG [National Heritage Training Group] has shown that there are declining skills in the heritage sector and the age of the workforce is increasing. This could lead to an inadequate level of labour and skill in the traditional craft trades.”
BS 7913: 2013 para 5.3.1 "Sustainability." Thomas Telford

Maintenance and rehabilitation work within the construction industry (some of which involves the historic environment) represents approximately 40% - 50% of its total output, so is not a small proportion of the industry’s workload and profit potential. However, anecdotally, there may well be far less than a 50% proportion of contractors skilled in conservation work.

“… there are few specific details about heritage building supply characteristics or its labour market. … There are, therefore, major obstacles in determining the exact size of the workforce engaged in heritage building work.”
…we believe these [skills shortages] add up to a sector failure in developing and sustaining… and a serious capacity constraint to the preservation and promotion of heritage in the UK.”
Crafts in the English Countryside (2004)

From analysis of various sources for numbers of people working with special heritage skills the above report speculates that of the total 1.4 million people working in the building industry only some 36,500 work within the heritage sector specifically. There is therefore a, speculated but nonetheless real, skills shortage of work people with genuine understanding focused on the conservation sector.

A series of publications under the title of "Traditional Building Craft Skills" and the theme of "Skills needs analysis of the built heritage sector", have also been published by the National Heritage Training Group (NHTG). In a country by country detailed assessment, the needs in England were published in 2005, updated in 2008; Wales and Scotland in 2007; and Ireland in 2009. These studies clearly identified the make up and shortfalls in skilled building craft personnel employed across the sector.

An additional volume, addressing the skills needs analysis of the "Built Heritage Sector Professionals", was published in 2008. This study identified the following statistics:

There were some 6,080,000 pre-1919 buildings in the UK, including 458,964 list entries, and over 33,206 scheduled monuments in 2008, noting that the list entries often contain numerous properties, and the the actual number of listed buildings could well be over half a million.

In the 2008 Skills needs analysis report on England, it was noted that £3.5 billion was spent on the conservation and restoration of historic buildings in 2007/08, with half on listed buildings; and that the total spend on listed buildings was set to rise by 4%. The England report mainly conclude that:

  • There is a shortage of labour, skills and experience
  • 6,590 new crafts persons would be required in the next 12 months
  • The age profile of persons employed in the heritage building skills sector is rising, with few young persons taking up training in the sector

Reference to their 10 key recommendations suggests how the identified labour shortfall might be addressed.

Across all four countries studied, the other NHTG reports noted similar concerns.
Copies of the various reports are available on the NHTG website

“Works shall not be delegated or subcontracted unless the conservator has sufficient knowledge of the agent to be confident that the work will be of a high standard, or can directly supervise the work.”
Canadian Code of Ethics

The choice of specialists in the focused field of conservation may sometimes be difficult to make and you will need to demonstrate that you have carried out investigations into sourcing the services of such focused expert advice. Your choice of adviser should reflect the needs of the intervention project and match those needs against the ability of the adviser to provide expertise and experience focused on the aims of the project.

Define a methodology for investigating the suitability of an adviser for work on a specific project within the historic environment.

To assist you in responding to this question see BS 7913: 2013 Annex A "Conservation accreditation schemes."

You may wish to refer to Taylor, J (1999) The Appointment of Professionals for Quinquennial Inspections: An Introduction to Accreditation and Approval Systems and Hughes, N (1996) Tenders for Conservation Work. See also Historic Scotland Conservation Bureau enquiry service for lists/register of suitable contractors/advisers.

In respect of professional advisers: individual professions do not specifically offer courses for conservation skills as part of their basic training and education for qualification; such ability that a practitioner might acquire tends to be serendipitous and gained through experience. The choice of advisers, therefore, might become something of a bagatelle when deciding who or which is most suitable for work on the historic environment. There are, and are being developed, various courses for acquisition of conservation skills and there has been developed an accreditation process that these CPD units support.

Practitioners accredited and recognised for skills gained through previous work on the historic environment must be a preferred choice when considering appointments. This will be particularly relevant where grant assistance is being sought from such bodies as Historic Scotland, and English Heritage.

“ Conservation expertise is acquired from life–long experience. There never seems to be any practical aspect where a long-standing and definitive position is maintained. The more one knows the more one realises one doesn’t know.”
Kindred, R. Context Magazine No.88 March 05.

You, as a conservation practitioner, must recognise the cardinal understanding offered by the preceding quotation.

'Professionals and contractors working on heritage assets need specialist skills to ensure that proposals for work undertaken on the asset are not detrimental.
This is true of all stages in the process, from conservation statements, condition surveys and feasibility studies to specifying and executing alterations, repairs or routine maintenance.”'
Managing Local Authority Assets (2003)

Careful consideration must, therefore, be given to the choice of both professional advisers and contractors when deciding on whose advice and expertise to use well before contemplating interventive work to the historic environment.

“Where skill is lacking, exploitation will reign supreme.”
Earl, J.