The latest figures from the Royal Institute of British Architects' (RIBA) monthly Future Trends Survey indicate that the architects' profession continues to remain in difficult territory, with downward trends expected in workload levels in most sectors and regions, and growing underemployment. However, workload levels are most likely to remain steady within the commercial sector, and have reached positive territory in the London region for the first time since June 2010.
This month, fears for a slump in workload grew; 29% of practices expected a decline in workload in August, rising 5% to 34% in September. Employment prospects for salaried architects remain steady with 5% of practices expecting an increase in staff in September, compared to 4% in August. However, the September figures measuring underemployment saw a 10% leap, with 35% of respondents maintaining that they were underemployed, compared to 25% in August.
The number of architects expecting more commercial project work grew by 2% (15% in September, compared to 13% in August), and the numbers expecting work to decrease stayed constant at 26%. London has returned a modest positive balance of +4; renewed commercial and retail activity in the London region is likely to be the first indicator of sustained recovery. The September figures again highlight a significant decline in workload within the private housing sector, with 10% more architects expecting workload to drop (23% in September, compared to 13% in August). Optimism for public sector work also looked set to decline, with 44% of architects expecting work to decrease in this sector, compared to 39% in August.
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 September 2010, the RIBA Future Trends Workload Index is -14 (compared to -10 in August 2010) and the RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index is -15 (compared to -14 in August 2010).
"There is no doubt that the past year has been especially difficult for the profession," said Adrian Dobson, RIBA Director of Practice. "Next week's Government's Comprehensive Spending Review will provide some much needed clarity for architects, and assist them with their business planning going forward.
The Government's The RIBA Future Trends Workload Index for September 2010 is -14, down from -10 in August 2010, continuing the recent downward trend in this Index. The number of our respondents reporting that lack of work over the last month has led to them being personally under-employed has increased significantly this month to 35% from 25% in August. This reinforces concern that there continues to be significant over-capacity in the profession as a whole given the current state of the market. Confidence levels are very low in Northern Ireland (balance figure -86). Scotland (balance figure -23), the North of England (balance figure -24) and Wales and the West (balance figure -29) are all experiencing declining confidence levels. However, although the profession currently remains in difficult territory, industry is still working at about two thirds of the level at the peak of the boom, so there is still a lot of work going on.
Many commentators have suggested that medium-term growth for UK construction professionals will rely heavily upon gaining work in new markets overseas, and many UK practices of all sizes are exploring opportunities in countries with construction growth. The proportion of work for practices in our survey on international projects has been around 4% over the last year, having stood at 9% in January 2009, and we are not yet seeing any firm indication of export growth in architectural services.
This month our participating practices report that the market for bespoke houses and domestic extensions continues to be relatively robust in comparison with other market sectors, however concerns remain about the potential impact of the planned VAT increase."