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Three-day week returns as recession looms

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The spectre of the 1970s returns as practices try to avoid futher redundancies

A growing number of practices is resorting to three-day weeks and staff pay cuts to keep themselves afloat and avoid mass redundancies.

International practice Chapman Taylor, which has lost 5 per cent of its 115 UK-based staff, is considering a three-day week for some employees to stave off further redundancies.

Speaking on behalf of the firm, ranked 15th in the AJ100, communications officer Irina Townsend said the practice was trying ‘to avoid mistakes made in the last recession’ in the early 1990s, which saw the firm shrink from 600 staff to 70.

Essex-based CHBC Architects has also trimmed the working hours of its staff.

‘Most of [our people] are now working a four-day week. Some are down to three,’ said practice director David Crawley. ‘But at least they are still working.’

The firm has already lost around half of its 70-strong workforce over the last year.

Crawley added: ‘I don’t want to lose good people. But it is really dog-eat-dog out there, and a lot of firms won’t survive.’

Christian Gilham, director of Manchester-based Leach Rhodes Walker, admitted that some staff had agreed to 10 per cent pay cuts, and a raft of other practices are understood to be taking similar measures.

High-profile firms such as Make have not escaped. Earlier this week the practice confirmed the closure of its Edinburgh office, and its headcount has dropped by around 30 staff since the summer.

Other practices making cutbacks include Llewellyn Davies Yeang, Bradford-based Robinson Architects, Conran & Partners, and Gardner Stewart, which has closed its Birmingham office.

The AJ also understands that Sheppard Robson is currently in consultation, and redundancies are a ‘definite possibility’. The firm has not ruled out the possibility of a shorter working week.

Meanwhile, on 2 December visualisation company Smoothe confirmed it had gone into liquidation.

Commenting on the news, Owen Luder, who has lived through ‘every boom and gloom’ since the Second World War, said: ‘People are comparing things to the recession of the early 1990s, but it is worse than that.

‘It is as bad as the 1970s, but even then we didn’t have a three-day week.’

The grim outlook has prompted the RIBA to launch a recession survival kit for its members, available from 5 December.

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