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New RIBA data: 'Marked dip' in workload forecasts and optimism

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The RIBA’s latest survey of the state of the profession shows a significant decline in confidence and projected work, warns Adrian Dobson

The RIBA Future Trends Workload Index fell back quite sharply this month (June), standing at +10 in June 2017 down from +23 in May.

Continuing the trend we have seen since the referendum on UK membership of the EU, it was practices in London that remained by, a significant margin, the most cautious about future workloads, with a balance figure of -3, dropping back into negative territory.

Practices in the north of England (balance figure +35) were the most optimistic about medium-term workload prospects this month.

Analysing the June 2017 data in terms of practice size, large practices (51+ staff) returned a balance figure of +18. Small practices (1-10 staff), with a balance figure of +8, and medium-sized practices (11-50 staff), with a balance figure of +14, were less positive.

In terms of different work sectors, all our sector forecasts dipped this month. The private housing sector workload forecast (balance figure +12) saw the biggest fall, but this remains by far the strongest of our sector forecasts, buoyed partly by ongoing strength in the bespoke housing and domestic extension market for small practices. The commercial sector workload forecast (balance figure +4) was down less sharply, largely sustained by greater confidence amongst large practices about the medium term outlook for commercial projects.

The public sector workload forecast fell back further into negative territory, standing at -6. The community sector forecast also saw a further significant fall this month, down to -7.

The RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index dipped marginally this month, falling to +6 in June from +7 in May. Nevertheless, 84 per cent of practices expect their permanent staffing levels to either remain the same or increase over the coming quarter, and salaried architects appear to remain in demand in the employment market.

Large practices, with a balance figure of +18, and medium-sized practices, with a balance figure of +21, both remained quite upbeat about future staffing levels. Small practices continued to be a little less confident, with a balance figure of +3.

The fall in confidence levels has largely been driven by growing concern about macro-economic uncertainties

Commentary received from our participating practices suggests that the fall in confidence levels this month has largely been driven by growing concern about macro-economic uncertainties, which appear to have been intensified by the general election outcome and the start of Brexit negotiations, rather than a dramatic change in workloads or the level of project enquiries. Time will tell whether this proves to be a temporary dip or an ongoing trend.

A number of practices commented that the real uncertainty that faces them is the longer six-to-12-month outlook rather than short-to-medium-term workloads.

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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