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Future workload index dips as economy teeters

AHMM's offices
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The fall in the RIBA workload index for February is a sign of a volatile economy rather than a slowdown in our sector, says Adrian Dobson

Our headline RIBA Future Trends Workload Index dipped this month, standing at +21 in February 2016 down from +29 in January 2016. The Workload Index has been somewhat volatile in the last few months, but remains in firmly positive territory, and the great majority of our participating practices continue to predict an increase in workloads in the short to medium term. This current volatility is perhaps more related to continuing macro-economic uncertainties, rather than specific factors affecting the market for architectural services.

In terms of geographical analysis, practices in the north of England were among the most upbeat this month (balance figure +30), while those in Wales and the West (balance figure +15) and Scotland (balance figure zero) where more cautious about future prospects.

Analysing this month’s data in terms of practice size, large practices (those with 51 or more staff members), with a balance figure of +50, remain the most positive, but practices with fewer than 10 staff with a balance figure of +25, and medium-sized practices with a balance figure of +19, also continue to predict increases in workload.

In terms of different work sectors, there was a mixed picture in February. The private housing sector workload forecast increased marginally to +31 compared with +30 in January. Private housing remains the best performing sector in our survey, illustrating how central it has been to continuing growth in architectural workloads. The commercial sector workload forecast fell back a little to +10 from +14 in January. The public-sector workload forecast also lost ground this month, falling to +1 compared with the previous month’s +7. By contrast the community sector forecast edged upwards to +2 in February, breaking into positive ground for the first time since November 2015.

The RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index fell back a little this month, standing at +7 in February, down from +10 in January. Small practices returned a Staffing Index balance figure of +8 this month, while medium-sized practices with a balance figure of +30, and large practices with a balance figure of +33, were more positive about taking on additional staff during the next quarter.

Commentary received from our participating practices continues to be broadly positive, and a number have reported a more stable pipeline of longer term, larger scale projects. However, there seems little doubt that a somewhat lower than anticipated rate of growth in the wider economy is having an impact on sentiment in the architectural profession and contributing to a climate of greater caution among some clients.

Adrian Dobson is executive director members at the RIBA and author of 21 Things You Won’t Learn in Architecture School

Download a full copy of the RIBA Future Trends Survey monthly report here 

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