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RIBA report: Too early to tell how Brexit will impact future workloads

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The eight-point fall in the RIBA future workloads index in June reflects pre-referendum jitters – the full impact of Brexit won’t be revealed until next month, writes Adrian Dobson

The RIBA future trends workload index was down in June 2016, falling to +22 compared with +30 in May. Analysing the commentary received with the survey returns, this fairly significant fall seems to have been driven at least partly by uncertainty around the outcome of the EU referendum, and its potential implications for business and consumer investment.

However, our headline workload confidence index remains firmly in positive territory. The data in this report is based on survey returns received in the period immediately before the referendum, so it won’t be until July that we can assess the impact of the result on workload confidence and the value of work in progress.

In terms of geographical analysis, all nations and regions returned positive balance figures. Following the pattern of recent months the north of England was the most positive of the English regions with a balance figure of +34. Sentiment in Northern Ireland (balance figure +67) and Scotland (balance figure +40) is now improving significantly, while the south of England (balance figure +3) is now the most cautious about a rise in future workloads.

Analysing this month’s data in terms of practice size, large practices (51+ staff) with a balance figure of +55 continue to be the most positive about future workload prospects, but small practices (1-10 staff) with a balance figure of +18, and medium-sized practices with a balance figure of +43, also remain positive overall.

In terms of work sectors, both private housing and commercial workload forecasts decreased this month. The private housing workload forecast fell to +19 in June, down from +29 in May, and the commercial forecast stood at +11 in June, down from +15 in May.

The public sector workload forecast saw little this change this month, moving up a little from +1 in May to stand at +3 in June. The community sector forecast saw a modest decrease, down to -3 from -1.

Anecdotal commentary continues to be positive, with workload pipelines remaining healthy

The RIBA future trends staffing index increased a little this month, standing at +14, up from +11 in May. Small practices returned a staffing index balance figure of +8, while medium-sized practices with a balance figure of +50 were a lot more optimistic about their ability to take on more staff in the coming quarter. In recent months confidence among large practices about increasing staffing levels has been less solid, but this month saw a significant improvement with a balance of +36.

Anecdotal commentary received from our participating practices this month continues to be weighted to the positive, with workload pipelines remaining healthy.

In the run up to the EU referendum, a significant number of respondents reported trepidation about the political and economic uncertainty created by the referendum and the potential impact on future workloads. However, few reported any direct impact on the level of new orders at the time of the survey. It is only in the coming months, and in particular the key investment decision months in the autumn, that our survey will give a meaningful idea of the effect of Brexit on workloads and employment levels for architects.

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

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