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Big practices braced for Brexit job cuts

Brexit europe
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A large number of big architecture practices are preparing to slash staff numbers as the prospect of a no-deal Brexit looms, new research has revealed

Four in 10 of those respondents to the RIBA’s latest Future Trends poll with more than 50 employees expected to reduce headcounts over the next three months. None expected to grow their teams.

With the UK due to exit from the EU on 29 March, and politicians seemingly at a deadlock over the strategy for doing so, concerns are rising sharply over the impact on construction. RIBA chief executive Alan Vallance said in January that a no-deal Brexit would be ‘a disaster for the UK’.

Last month’s Future Trends survey highlighted fears of job cuts among small practices and now it seems a substantial threat exists at larger companies. The big practice staffing balance of -40 was the most negative recorded in five years of comparable data. 

RIBA executive director members Adrian Dobson said: ‘There is no doubt that practices of all sizes are cautious about increasing staffing levels due to the current climate of political and economic uncertainty. However, this month’s findings show that larger practices in particular feel far more vulnerable and warier than they have of late.

’The employment market for salaried architects certainly looks to be somewhat more challenging for applicants over the next quarter.’

Larger practices in particular feel far more vulnerable and warier than they have of late

The anticipated decline in staffing levels at big practices was mirrored by forecasts of plummeting workloads. Meanwhile, firms with 10 workers or fewer expected a minor fall in output while a balance of medium-sized companies, surprisingly, looked forward to growing order books.

Dobson said: ‘The decline in workload confidence for larger practices compared to their more rosy outlook at the end of 2018 is a cause for concern. Lack of clarity about the Brexit process and the likely end destination was cited by many correspondents as the most significant source of their caution and apprehension, alongside a growing reluctance to commit to projects on the part of some clients.’

Practices in Wales and the West remained the most pessimistic about future workloads, followed by those in the capital. The rest of the South of England, the Midlands and East Anglia were also negative about the next three months.

In contrast, the North of England remained optimistic, with even more firms expecting an uptick in work over the following quarter than when they were polled last month.

Private housing was expected to rise slightly, while commercial, public and community work was all anticipated to fall.

A total of 236 practices were surveyed by the RIBA in January for these latest results – the first Future Trends poll to cover a period extending beyond the UK’s scheduled exit from the EU.

Norman Foster and David Chipperfield signed a letter earlier this year stating the priority for prime minister Theresa May had to be avoiding ‘crashing out of the EU with no deal at all’.

Earlier this month it emerged that an increasing number of architects were registering in Ireland in a bid to avoid being frozen out of work on the Continent in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • While avoiding No Deal is essential, as the RIBA have made very clear, people seem to have temporarily lost sight of the fact that May's Deal explicitly accepts that trade in services with the EU will be reduced compared to the past. Firms in services sectors, for instance, financial services, have yet to reveal the full scope of the resulting move out of the UK which is likely only to emerge towards the end of the May Deal transition period. Uncertainly about the demand for construction will be unresolved for years to come, affecting all practices, whatever their size.

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