The latest Future Trends Survey published by the Royal Institute of British Architects' reveals that a double-dip recession is "almost certain."
The July 2010 results of the survey, set up by the RIBA in January 2009 to monitor business and employment trends affecting the architecture profession, highlighted that practices anticipated an overall reduction in workload over the next quarter, and the RIBA Future Workload Index graph clearly reveals the double-dip trend.
The number of practices expecting workload to decrease rose again by 3% (28% predicting a decrease in July, compared to 25% in June). There continues to be little evidence of a recovery in employment prospects for salaried architects, with 16% of architects expecting a decrease in staff numbers; a one per cent rise on the 15% figure in May and June. 27% of respondents also stated that they were personally underemployed in July (25% in June, compared to 29% in May).
The survey also revealed that practices continued to be markedly less optimistic about forecasted workload predictions across every sector, encompassing public, commercial and private housing. 42% of practices expected a further decrease in future public sector workload; this is compared with just 38% in June and just 25% in May. The number of firms expecting commercial sector work to decrease remained constant at 19%, which was a 6% increase on May's forecast of 13%. Last month, private housing was the only sector to fare better, however the number of firms expecting more work stayed constant at 26%, compared to 22% in May); the numbers expecting work to decrease also rose by 2% (14% in July, compared to 12% in June).
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 July 2010, the RIBA Future Trends Workload Index is -4 (compared to +2 in June 2010) and the RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index remains at -8 (compared to -9 in May 2010).
"This is the fifth consecutive month in which The RIBA Future Trends Workload Index has fallen, and it has now entered negative territory for the first time since April 2009, providing a clear indication that architects now anticipate a further significant downturn in overall levels of business," said Adrian Dobson, RIBA Director of Practice. "It is now medium size practices which are the most pessimistic about their future work prospects (balance figure -17). Scotland and Northern Ireland remain the least confident locations in terms of a geographical analysis of the survey returns.
The overall sense is that the general election has not had the effect of improving confidence, with many clients still very reluctant to commit to capital programmes. With interest rates remaining at an all time low, the bespoke, private residential sector remains buoyant in many locations, but some practices report little recovery in private sector multiple housing. Many architects active in the residential sector are anxious about the impact of the proposed VAT increase. A number of practices which have managed to maintain workloads report that the value of projects, in terms of size and fees, is generally reducing, with consequent impact on profit margins and salary levels. More specialist work, such as conservation, seems to be offering a safer haven.
Commentary submitted by our respondents this month focuses on a number of themes which have featured consistently throughout the life of the RIBA Future Trends Survey, including intense fee competition, delays in the release of development funding from banks, late and non-payment of fees and delays in the planning application system."