Uncertainty and declining confidence amongst small practices: RIBA publishes latest future trends survey results

publication coverThe latest RIBA survey of architects indicates a considerable fall in optimism about their future workload.

RIBA writes:

Practices in Wales and the West of England were most pessimistic about their workloads (returning a balance figure of -10), while London (at +1) and the South of England (at +8) remained cautious about their medium-term prospects. The most significant fall was reported by firms based in the Midlands and East Anglia, with workload predictions tumbling to zero from +12 in November. The North of England continues to remain the most optimistic area (returning a balance figure of +15), however the region is less positive than it has been in recent months.

Large practices (with 51+ staff) remain most positive about their future workloads, returning a balance figure of +60 in December 2018. Medium-sized practices (with 11 – 50 staff) returned a more modest result of +14, while smaller practices (with 1 – 10 staff) appeared considerably more nervous, returning a balance figure of just +1.

Forecasted workloads in the private housing fell dramatically in December (down to zero from +8 in November); the commercial sector also saw a decline, falling to a balance figure of -2 from zero. The public sector workload forecast fell to -5 (from 0) and the community sector fell to -3 (from +3).

The RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index fell again to +1 in December from +4 in November, suggesting a weakening in the employment market for salaried architects.

The staffing forecast for large practices (with 51+ staff) remained strong at +40, though down on recent highs. Medium-sized practices (with 11 – 50 staff) returned a balance figure of +14 but small practices (with 1 – 10 staff) moved into negative territory for the first time since April 2018, returning a figure of -1 and providing further evidence of increasing nervousness in the small practice sector.

RIBA Executive Director Members, Adrian Dobson, said: ‘Our latest survey results continue to paint a mixed picture: while some practices (generally larger ones) report a steady pipeline of commissions, others (predominantly smaller ones) report difficulties as investors and developers continue to halt decision-making due to uncertainty. The stalling of the house sales market now seems to be affecting confidence in the private housing sector – the main engine of growth in demand for architectural services in recent years. The decline in the private housing sector forecast perhaps explains the weakening of confidence in the small practice segment, which is particularly dependent on this work.’

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