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RIBA report: Confidence rises despite slow workload growth

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Following a post-referendum plummet, the RIBA Future Trends Workload Index continued its bounce back in October, writes Adrian Dobson

The RIBA Future Trends Workload Index was on an upward path this month, rising to +16 in October 2016, up from +8 in September. The bounceback in our key workload confidence index, following the dramatic fall it experienced immediately after the EU referendum, has continued, although the workload index has not yet matched its pre-referendum highs.

In terms of geographical analysis, optimism about future workloads continue to be strong in the Midlands and East Anglia (balance figure +40) while the north of England also remains upbeat (balance figure +15), while caution is most evident in London (balance figure zero).

Analysing this month’s data in terms of practice size, large practices (51+ staff), with a balance figure of +15, seem to be recovering some confidence. Small practices (1-10 staff) returned a balance figure of +16, but it is medium-sized practices (11-50 staff), with a balance figure of +27, that are now most positive about future work prospects.

Private housing continues to be the main engine driving growth in  demand for architectural services

In terms of different work sectors, both the commercial sector workload forecast (balance figure +1) and the private housing sector workload forecast (balance figure +16) were unchanged in October. The public-sector workload forecast fell slightly to -4 in October, down from -1 in September. The community-sector forecast increased marginally, standing at zero this month compared with -1 in September.

With sentiment in the commercial sector remaining somewhat subdued, it is the private housing sector that continues to be the main engine driving growth in the demand for architectural services.

The RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index increased marginally this month, rising from zero in September to +1. The overall sense is of an employment market for salaried architects that is broadly in balance, with practices anticipating they will maintain current staffing levels, but little indication of any imminent increase in the total architectural workforce, reflecting the overall slowdown in the rate of workload growth in recent months.

Our participating practices continue to see growth in the value of work in progress, although at an annualised rate of just 1 per cent, it is much lower than the figures we were seeing in 2014, 2015 and the first half of 2016.

Some practices said they had been able to charge additional fees for BIM-related services

Small practices returned a Staffing Index balance figure of -1 this month. Medium-sized practices, with a balance figure of +18, were the most positive about future staffing levels, while large practices, with a balance of +8, were a little less cautious than they have been in the previous few months.

Commentary received from our participating practices this month continued to paint a somewhat mixed picture. Some practices, particularly those working in the private housing sector, indicated an uptick in work since the summer. A number of practices commented that they were seeing fee levels increasing. Some reported that they had been able to charge additional fees for BIM-related services. This upbeat commentary was balanced by a few more cautious narratives around greater funding uncertainty on some commercial projects and a general sense of unpredictability around some areas of public-sector work.

Overall a bit of a curate’s egg this month in terms of anecdotal commentary.

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.

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