December results of the RIBA Future Trends Survey present a drop in optimism across many areas in the profession, including workload, staffing and sector predictions. Fewer practices expected workload to increase (38 per cent in November to 31 per cent in December), although the number of practices predicting work to stay the same rose from 41 per cent in November, to 52 per cent in December. Staffing levels were similarly affected, with only 5 per cent of practices expecting staff levels to rise, compared to 10 per cent in November; there was no change in the number of practices predicting a decrease, which remained constant at 11 per cent. There was sustained improvement in terms of underemployment, with a greater number of individual respondents stating that they have more work (30 per cent of practices were underemployed in October; 28 per cent in November and 23 per cent in December).
There was a decline in all forecasted workload predictions across the work sectors monitored by the survey, with the steepest drop in private housing. 36 per cent of practices expected private housing work to increase in November, compared to 28 per cent in December, which has impacted upon the number of practices expecting it to stay constant (59 per cent in December, compared to 51 per cent in November.) Predictions for workload within the commercial and public sectors also dropped; 16 per cent of practices predicted an increase in commercial work in December, compared to 20 per cent in November. Similarly, only 15 per cent of practices predicted an increase in public sector work in December, compared to 19 per cent in November.
The statistical analysis of the survey enables the RIBA to regularly report on two key confidence tracking indices relating to future workloads and staffing levels. For December 2009, the RIBA Future Trends Workload Index is +14 (compared to +19 in November 2009) and the RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index is -6 (compared to -1 in November 2009).
"This month's figures demonstrate that there is not yet a sustained trend of increasing optimism about future workloads," said Adrian Dobson, RIBA Director of Practice. "Larger practices (50+ staff) continue to be the most confident about an increase in workloads over the next quarter. Practices based in the North of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland are currently less confident of increases in future workloads compared with those in the rest of the United Kingdom. Overall private housing is still seen by practices as offering the best prospects for future growth, despite a small fall in the forecast figure for this sector this month. Whilst staffing levels appear to have stabilised, the Future Trends data does not suggest that practices are sufficiently confident about future prospects to contemplate significantly re-building their permanent staffing complement at the present time.
Each month we ask our respondents whether lack of work over the last month has led to them being personally under-employed. The figure for December 2009 is 23 per cent, showing a significant improvement since the October 2009 level of 28 per cent, and perhaps indicating improvement in levels of work in progress. Anecdotal commentary submitted this month continues to illustrate that the situation for individual practices varies greatly, with certain specialist sectors, for example small-scale domestic projects, education, building conservation, performing better than others. Common themes remain pressure on fees levels and reductions in profit margins, difficulty for developers in obtaining release of funds from the banks, difficulty for practices in assessing captive fees beyond a 6 - 8 week time period, and increasing competition from other providers of architectural services. The overall theme is one of cautious optimism but with great uncertainty remaining about prospects over the next twelve months."