Following a buoyant March, the RIBA Future Trends Workload Index for April remains positive, writes Adrian Dobson
The RIBA Future Trends Workload Index was unchanged in April at +22.
In terms of geographical analysis, practices in the north (balance figure +48) were the most optimistic about medium-term workload prospects this month. Practices in London (balance figure +17) remained more cautious about future workloads, but our practices in the south of England saw a significant uplift in optimism (balance figure +29) compared with the figures we have seen for this region in recent preceding months.
Analysing the April data in terms of practice size, large practices (51+ staff) returned a balance figure of +50 in April 2017; a big jump up from +20 in March. Small practices (1-10 staff), with a balance figure of +23, were also more upbeat this month. By contrast medium-sized practices were becoming more cautious, with a balance figure of +16 in April, compared with +36 in March.
In terms of different work sectors, both the private housing sector workload forecast (balance figure +20) and the commercial sector workload forecast (balance figure +9) were unchanged this month. These remain the most strongly performing of our sector forecasts.
The public sector workload forecast lost its recent upward momentum, falling back into negative territory, with a balance figure of -5. The community sector forecast, however, continued to rise, standing at +6 in April - its highest figure since March 2015.
The RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index dipped a little this month, falling to +9 in April 2017 from +12 in March.
This month it was large practices with a balance figure of +20 that felt most positive about their ability to increase staffing levels. Medium-sized practices, with a balance figure of +15, were also positive about future staffing levels. Small practices were a little less confident, with a balance figure of +8.
Commentary received this month from our participating practices continues to suggest a broadly stable market for architectural services.
A number of correspondents have commented that the market for private house extensions remains particularly buoyant, but that much of this work is financed via remortgaging and is therefore highly sensitive to any correction in house prices.
At the larger project scale, it seems that infrastructure is likely to continue to be prioritised in terms of public sector capital investment, and sectors such as transport and energy infrastructure are seen as increasingly important by a number of larger practices.
There continues to be growing interest in the PRS housing sector as financial institutions begin to become more actively engaged, building upon experience in student housing provision.
Adrian Dobson is executive director members at the RIBA and the author of 21 Things You Won’t Learn in Architecture School. A full copy of the RIBA Future Trends Survey monthly report is available online.