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Northern England leads the way on future workload index

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Data from the RIBA’s monthly Future Trends survey for March shows a buoyant mood across the UK with the north the most optimistic, writes Adrian Dobson

In March the RIBA Future Trends Workload Index bounced back strongly, following last month’s fall, standing at +31, up from +21 in February. The recent downward trend in the workload Index does appear to have bottomed out, and our practices are predicting a healthy increase in workloads over the next quarter. There continues to be a degree of volatility in the data, however, perhaps indicating that there is a general level of uncertainty about the future economic direction of travel for the architectural profession.

In terms of geographical analysis, all the nations and regions returned positive workload forecasts, but it was the north that was the stand-out performer with a balance figure of +52.

Analysing this month’s data in terms of practice size, large practices (51+ staff), with a balance figure of +57 remain the most positive, but small practices (less than 10 staff) with a balance figure of +28 are also upbeat about work prospects. Medium-sized practices have seen a big jump in confidence levels, with a balance figure of +48.

Private housing remains the best performing sector by far in our survey

In terms of different work sectors, it was the commercial sector workload forecast that returned the most eye-catching result, with a significant increase up to +18 in March from +10 in February.

The private housing sector workload forecast decreased marginally to +28, down from +31 in February, but private housing remains the best-performing sector by far in our survey.

The public-sector workload forecast had a balance figure of zero this month, and the community sector -1. Our practices are not anticipating any significant increase in these sectors in the near term, and it is clearly private housing and commercial that are driving the current growth in work.

Large practices continue to be more positive about taking on additional staff

The RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index also climbed a little this month, standing at +10 in March up from +7 in February.

Small practices returned a staffing index balance figure of +5, while medium-sized practices with a balance figure of +35, and large practices with a balance figure of +57, continue to be more positive about taking on additional staff.

Anecdotal commentary received from our participating practices continues to be largely weighted towards the positive, albeit tempered by the recognition that fee levels remain under pressure. The bespoke residential and domestic extension markets continue to be buoyant, with many practices reporting an increase in both enquiries and work in progress.

 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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