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Architects' workloads down as unemployment rises again

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The RIBA’s latest Future Trends Survey (FTS) is continuing to paint a bleak picture with practices predicting falling workloads for the sixth consecutive month

Meanwhile the number of unemployed architects is back on the increasing with 1,295 claiming the dole in August, up from 1,205 in July and 215 more than the 18-month low in June (1,080).

According to (FTS) figures for August, the number of firms expecting a growth in work has dropped by 8 per cent since June. Worryingly less than a fifth (19 per cent) of those surveyed expected workloads to increase compared to more than a quarter (27 per cent) just two months ago.

The survey also revealed that practices continued to be ‘less optimistic about forecasted workload predictions’ in the commercial and private housing sectors - though more than two thirds (68 per cent) expected the private residential market to remain static.

Adrian Dobson, the RIBA’s director of practice said: ‘We are likely to see a further reduction in work in progress over the next quarter. 

‘Medium size practices (11 – 50 staff) continue to be the most pessimistic about their future workload prospects [while] confidence levels in Scotland and Northern Ireland continue to be particularly low.

He added: ‘The market for bespoke houses and domestic extensions seems to be continuing to hold up well in many areas, but a number of our correspondents have expressed concern about the potential impact of the planned VAT increase and many are expressing the need for interest rates to be kept at low levels in the medium term. 

‘There is also evidence of increased fee competition in this sector. A sustained recovery is likely to be led by the commercial sector, and we will be watching closely for the first signs of this sector forecast returning positive figures.’

Dobson said some practices were still having to resort to reduced working hours to tackle the issues, including the growth of fee undercutting.

He said: ‘The current over-capacity in several sectors is leading to intense fee competition, and practices have to analyse the resource requirements of projects and the scope of services very carefully to ensure that they can successfully deliver projects and cover costs.  During the last major recession in the UK construction industry many practice failures actually occurred in the recovery phase as a result of unrealistic fee bidding and some unsustainable fee levels.’

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