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Architects unprepared for no-deal Brexit as workload confidence falls

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Architects’ confidence about winning new work is at its lowest ebb since the EU referendum, but few are properly prepared for a no-deal Brexit, according to a new data from the RIBA

The institute’s latest Future Trends Survey suggests that workload predictions in September 2019 were at their lowest level since July 2016, the month following the vote to leave the EU.

It is the fourth time since 2013 that the workload prediction figure has fallen into negative balance, when more respondents expect their workload to drop than to increase.

The survey also highlighted a lack of preparation by practices for a no-deal Brexit. In September, more than half (57 per cent) of practices had done no preparation. And of these only 5 per cent intended to do any planning in future.

The RIBA reported that 30 per cent of respondents had undertaken very few preparations. Only 7 per cent had prepared across all areas where disruption was expected. This is despite government advice to prepare for a potential no-deal.

RIBA president Alan Jones commented: ‘Continued political and economic uncertainty has put architects in a state of limbo, making it very difficult for practices to plan for the future. It is clear the UK needs urgent clarity on Brexit, and how it will affect access to talent, the ability to trade and its impact on development.’

RIBA head of economic research and analysis Adrian Malleson said many practices saw Brexit bringing ‘significant’ problems. ‘These range from a reduction in small private housing work and fewer enquiries, to wider concerns about the supply of materials and labour in the case of a no-deal Brexit,’ he said.

The project pipeline survey comes hot on the heels of worrying figures released to the AJ, showing that architect pay is falling. The survey of more than 2,200 UK-based architectural staff showed that salaries on average fell by around 0.8 per cent over the past year, with the drop linked to the impact of the Brexit vote.

The RIBA workload survey found that practices in London and the South of England continued to be the most pessimistic, with London dropping 7 index points to -15 and the South of England returning a figure of -8.

Workload predictions in the North of England dropped significantly from +29 to +6, while confidence in the Midlands and East Anglia also decreased from +19 to +6.

Wales and the West bucked the trend with an increase in workload predictions, rising from a lowly -15 to 0.

Small practices (1-10 staff) were the most pessimistic on business forecasts, dropping four points to -8. Medium-sized practices (11-50 staff) recorded a value of +24. 

The RIBA said that September brought a decrease in confidence across all business sectors, with fall seen in the commercial sector (-7), community sector (-10) and public sector (-10). Even the private housing sector, which was last negative in June 2012, was down four points.

Despite this, practices didn’t expect to cut their workforces. The Future Trends Staffing Index, which measures expectations of the number of permanent staff over the following three months, rose slightly from 0 to +3 in September.

The Future Trends survey was launched in January 2009 and is completed by a mix of small, medium and large firms based on a geographically representative sample. It is carried out by the RIBA in partnership with the Fees Bureau and results are published each month.

Next month the RIBA will launch a Resilience Tool Kit, providing Brexit business resilience guidance to members.

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