The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) announced the first set of results of 2010 from its monthly Future Trends Survey, which was established a year ago in January 2009 to monitor business and employment trends affecting the architecture profession.
January's results follow on from December, presenting a further drop in optimism across many areas in the profession, including workload, staffing and sector predictions. There was a total 10% drop in the number of practices expecting workload to increase over the past two months (38% in November, 31% in December and 28% in January), although the number of practices predicting work to stay the same rose marginally from 52% in December, to 53% in January. There were also very minimal changes to staffing levels, with the vast majority of practices expecting staff numbers to remain constant, (83% in January and 84% in December); there was no change in the number of practices predicting an increase, which remained constant at 5%. 28% of respondents stated that they were personally underemployed in January, a 5% rise from the December 2009 figures.
The survey revealed a further decline in forecasted workload predictions across the private housing and public housing sectors; only 24% of practices expected private housing work to increase in January, compared to 28% in December, and more practices expected workload to decrease (13% in December, rising to 18% in January.) Predictions for increased work within the public sector also dropped, with 15% of practices predicting an increase in December, falling to 11% in January. The number of practices expecting a drop in public sector workload increased from 20% in December, to 24% in January. The commercial sector was the only one to fare favourably, with 21% of practices predicting an increase in workload in January, compared to 16% in December. 17% of practices expected a drop in workload in January, compared to 15% in December.
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 January 2010, the RIBA Future Trends Workload Index is +9 (compared to +14 in December 2009) and the RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index is -7 (compared to -6 in December 2009).
"The RIBA Future Trends Workload Index has fallen to its lowest level since August 2009; though it continues in positive territory, confidence appears to remain very fragile," said Adrian Dobson, RIBA Director of Practice. "Practices based in the North of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland are still the least confident of increases in future workloads. Overall private housing is still seen by practices as offering the best prospects for future growth, but there has been a reduction in confidence this month even in this sector, falling to +6 in January 2010 from +14 in December 2009. Future workload predictions in the commercial sector remain positive, but the current balance figure is only a very modest +4. Practices seem now to have factored in a steep reduction in public sector capital spending after the general election, with this sector prediction having fallen quite rapidly to -13. The Staffing Index continues to exhibit levels somewhat below those of the Workload Index, and has not yet broken into positive territory. We must therefore again report that whilst staffing levels have stabilised, our practices do not envisage any significant increase in their staffing levels over the next quarter.
Anecdotal commentary submitted this month continues to suggest that the situation for individual practices varies greatly, with certain specialist sectors, for example small-scale domestic extension and conversion projects, building conservation work and LIFT healthcare programmes, performing better than others. Common themes remain pressure on fees levels and reductions in profit margins, tightening of lending criteria by banks, and nervousness amongst commercial developers to progress projects beyond planning approval."