The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)’s Future Trends Survey for February 2015 has revealed continued optimism, although the public sector workload forecast has dipped with uncertainty about spending commitments ahead of the UK General Election in May. The workload index fell back slightly to +26 (from +29 in January) and workload forecast balance figures have remained high, the highest numbers being reported from practices in the Midlands and East Anglia (+43) and in Wales and the West (+39). In addition, practices have reported that they are now employing 16% more Part 1 (undergraduate) and Part 2 (postgraduate) students than they were twelve months ago.
According to the RIBA, 12% of respondents reported that they had personally been under-employed in the last month, and the spare capacity retained within the profession during the recession "continues to reduce quite rapidly." Small practices (1–10 staff) remain positive about the outlook for future workloads (with a balance figure of +21). Medium-sized practices (11–50 staff) and large-sized practices (51+ staff) are anticipating more growth in workloads over the next quarter, with balance figures of +69 and +50 respectively.
February's survey shows that although public sector workload forecasts have fallen, it is clear that the slow recovery is being shared equally across practices of all sizes. The private housing sector workload forecast remains the most positive at +27 in February, though this is down from +33 in January. The commercial sector workload forecast also remains firmly in positive territory, rising to +15 in February 2015 (from +13 in January). Meanwhile, the community sector workload forecast remains stable at +5.
The RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index stands at +9 in February 2015, falling from +14 in January 2015. According to the survey, medium-sized practices are currently more confident about their ability to sustain higher staffing levels in the mid-term (with a balance figure of +44) than either small or large practices.
According to Adrian Dobson, RIBA Director of Practice, "it is positive to see the nationwide recovery in workloads continuing. Practices of all sizes remain confident about future prospects for private housing and commercial work. The fall in the public sector forecast may reflect increased uncertainty about short and medium-term public sector capital spending commitments ahead of the forthcoming General Election."
Dobson also suggests that "despite the recent sustained period of growth in workloads, practices remain cautious about increasing overall staffing levels too quickly. However, it is encouraging to see signs of practices employing more Part 1 and Part 2 students, and the situation for students seeking professional practice experience is much improved on recent years. Overall, results continue to suggest growing demand for architects’ services. Nevertheless, there are widespread reports of intense fee competition in many sectors and profit margins remain tight for a large number of practices."
The monthly survey is designed to “monitor the employment and business trends affecting the architectural profession throughout the period of economic downturn,” the data from which is analyzed by both the RIBA and the Fees Bureau. It is a “representative sample of the range of different practice sizes and geographical locations” with 1,600 British Architects from 226 firms contributing.
Read the reports in full here.