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RIBA report: Practices report static fee levels as workload confidence dips

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London and the South are least optimistic regions as workload index falls while competition remains intense, writes Adrian Dobson

The RIBA Future Trends Workload Index dipped this month, falling to +16 in February 2017, down from +24 in January 2017.

In terms of geographical analysis, practices in London (balance figure +10) and the south of England (+3) were the most cautious about future workload prospects. Practices located in the north of England (+39) continued to be the most confident about growth in workloads over the next quarter. Wales and the West (+22) also reported a very positive outlook.

Analysing the February data in terms of practice size, large practices (51+ staff) returned a balance figure of +14, significantly lower than the +38 recorded in January. Medium-sized practices (11-50 staff), with a balance figure of +17, and small practices (1- 10 staff), with a balance figure of +16, also saw a dip in confidence levels, but all size categories of practice continue to be positive overall about future workloads.

The employment market for salaried architects remains healthy

In terms of different work sectors, the private housing sector workload forecast nudged up to +23 in February, from +22 in January. By contrast, the commercial sector workload forecast was down a little, standing at +3 compared with +8 in January. The public sector workload forecast was unchanged at -6 this month, remaining stuck in negative territory. The community sector forecast also fell, from +1 in January to -4 in February.

The RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index increased marginally this month, rising to +9 from +8 in January.

Practices continue to be confident overall about their ability to sustain and even grow staffing levels over the next quarter, indicating that the employment market for salaried architects remains healthy. Only 7 per cent of practices expect to employ fewer staff in three months’ time.

This month it was again medium-sized practices, with a balance figure of +31, that were the most positive about future staffing levels. Large practices also remained fairly bullish about staffing levels, returning a balance figure of +14. Small practices remained the least confident, but their balance figure edged up from +4 in January 2017 to +6 in February.

This month we asked our participating practices about any direct impact the EU referendum has had on their staffing levels. Five per cent of practices reported that they had made some staff redundant as a direct consequence of the Brexit decision, with large practices more likely to have done so.

Commentary received from our participating practices continues to be predominantly positive. A common theme though is that, despite several years of continued growth in demand for architectural services, competition for work remains intense for many, and a number of practices continue to report that fee levels remain suppressed. .

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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