The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Future Trends Survey for November 2011 shows that overall workloads appear to be becoming more stable, but confidence about the future remains fragile. Statistical analysis of the survey enables the RIBA to track regularly the two key indices of confidence within the profession: future workloads and staffing levels.
The RIBA Future Trends Workload Index has risen for the second consecutive month, now standing at -4 (up from -7 in October and -10 in September 2011). As in previous months, practices in London remain more optimistic about future growth in the demand for architects' services than those in other parts of the United Kingdom.
Large practices - those with over 51 staff - appear increasingly confident that workloads will increase over the next three months. With a healthy balance figure of +33, significantly more large practices now anticipate more work. In general, however, small practices - one to 10 staff - and medium practices - 11 to 50 staff - are less confident about being able to increase their workloads.
Despite a rise in the RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index from -8 in October to -4 in November, practices generally do not feel sufficiently confident to increase staffing levels. Large practices, however, returned a positive balance figure, indicating that some practices of over 51 staff may recruit in the New Year.
Compared with October 2011, slightly fewer - 30 per cent - of those responding to the survey felt that they had personally been under-employed during November.
The forecast for the public sector improved slightly in November 2011 but those for the commercial, community and private housing sectors all edged downwards. Despite that, the private housing sector remains the most resilient, with a relatively solid demand for bespoke residential refurbishment and extension work. In addition, large practices continue to report an improved outlook for work in the commercial sector.
"Looking at last month's survey, bespoke housing, conservation and some specialist health and elderly care sectors seem to be among the better performing sectors," commented Adrian Dobson, RIBA Director of Practice.
"But, generally, the situation remains challenging. Practices continue to find it difficult to predict future cash flow and there are signs of a return to high levels of late payment of fees. While some practices report increased feasibility work for commercial projects, these are not yet always leading to full commissions, and many clients are still finding it hard to secure bank lending for projects."