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End-of-year rally in confidence brings seasonal cheer

AHMM's offices
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Following four consecutive falls, the RIBA Future Trends Workload Index soared last month, rounding off a year of encouraging economic performance, says Adrian Dobson

The RIBA Future Trends Workload Index increased substantially this month, rising to +27 in November 2015 from +18 in October 2015. This recovery in our headline Index, following four consecutive months of falls, suggests that confidence levels within the profession are stabilising again as we approach the end of the year, and brings a little early Christmas cheer for the architectural profession.

In terms of geographical analysis, all nations and regions in the UK returned positive balance figures in October 2015. A key feature of 2015 is that the strong recovery in architectural workloads has spread out beyond London and the South East; indeed some of the hottest areas for growth can now be found in the great northern cities of England.

In terms of different work sectors, the private housing sector workload forecast was unchanged this month, standing at +25, and remaining by far the most robust of our sector forecasts, as it has throughout the year. The crucial commercial sector workload forecast jumped up to +14 in November 2015 compared with +7 in October 2015. Both the public sector workload forecast (balance figure -3) and the community sector forecast (balance figure +3) were unchanged this month, and the picture for the public and third sectors appears to remain subdued.

The RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index also recovered lost ground this month, rising to +14 in November 2015, up from +9 in October 2015. Small practices (1 – 10 staff) returned a staffing index balance figure of +10 this month and medium-sized practices (11 - 50 staff) a balance figure of +33. Large practices (51+ staff) continue to be the most confident about increasing staff numbers, with a balance figure of +50. The employment market for salaried architects has been strong throughout 2015 and there is now plenty of evidence that practices are finding it is taking more time to recruit new staff with appropriate skills. Again this is no longer a phenomenon restricted to those located in southerly climes.

Overall 2015 has been a good year for the economic performance of the profession. The RIBA workload forecast has been in positive territory throughout the year and the value of actual work in progress has been running at an average of around 8 per cent per annum; an extremely impressive rate of growth by any standard. We have also seen evidence of an increase in fee levels during this period. However, the workload index did suffer a bit of a wobble in summer and early autumn, so this end-of year bounce back is welcome news. Some practices have recently sounded a note of caution that increases in tender prices are leading some clients to question the viability of projects moving into the construction phase.

Looking forward to 2016 it does seem likely that the growth in the value of work in progress is likely to be more modest than 2014 and 2015, but overall prospects seem good for the general upward momentum to be maintained.

Future Trends graph

Future Trends graph

Adrian Dobson is Executive Director Members at the RIBA and the author of 21 Things You Won’t Learn in Architecture School

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