RIBA Future Trends Survey for August 2015 shows pause after optimistic summer for architects

  • Large practices reach a plateau, with no expected change in workload
  • Confidence in private housing sector weakens
  • Growth in workloads still positive at 8 per cent

The RIBA Future Trends Workload Index changed little in August 2015, dropping one point to +21. All nations and regions in the UK returned positive balance figures, with the North continuing to be the most optimistic about future workloads (returning a balance figure of +42). Practices in London (balance figure +17), the South (balance figure+12) and the Midlands and East Anglia (+14) are more cautious about workload growth over the next quarter.

Large practices (51+ staff) indicated a plateau in workload levels, returning a balance figure of zero; small practices (1–10 staff) and medium-sized practices (11–50 staff) remain more confident about increasing workloads in the medium-term (balance figures of +18 and +36 respectively). Despite the recent change in our headline index, the forecast is firmly in positive territory; the value of actual work in progress is still growing at an annual rate of 8 per cent.

The private housing sector forecast continued its downward trajectory, falling to +18 in August (down from +23 in July).  The public sector workload forecast also decreased, down to -4 in August from -1 in July 2015. The commercial sector workload forecast increased by one point to +14, while the community sector forecast was unchanged, standing at +1 in August.

The RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index saw a modest decline this month, falling to +7 in August (down from +12 in July). 96 per cent of surveyed practices nonetheless expect their permanent staffing levels either to increase or to stay the same over the next few months, indicating that the employment market for salaried architects remains buoyant.

Medium-sized practices (with a balance figure of +32) and large practices (balance figure +20) are more likely to be actively appointing new staff than small practices, which returned a balance figure of +2 in August.

RIBA Executive Director Members Adrian Dobson said:

“After an optimistic spring and early summer, the profession appears to have paused for breath after a period of significant growth. This note of caution is most prominent in the South and East, which have so far seen the greatest growth, whilst confidence now seems higher in the northern cities. There is also a noticeable loss in confidence about medium term prospects for the private housing sector, with our practices suggesting that a temporary peak is being reached in this sector.

Commentary from practices suggests that the majority of firms are seeing solid growth in workloads, with a number reporting that market conditions are enabling them to negotiate better fee levels. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence of practices across the UK having difficulties in recruiting experienced staff with specific skill sets. The overall picture is one of continued increases in workloads, though with a consensus that in the coming months the pace of growth is likely to slow significantly.”