Architects' confidence in the North of England dipped significantly, according to the latest RIBA Future Trends report. In September 2018, the Workload Index dropped slightly to +7, down from +11 in August. The gap between London and the rest of the UK has narrowed significantly this month, with the previously upbeat North of England seeing a reduction down to +12, from +41 last month.
Practices in the South of England, by contrast, were more optimistic than they had been previously, with a balance figure of +11, up from +5. London based practices (balance figure +1) remain the most cautious about future workload prospects.
"Commentary received from our participating practices suggests a fairly steady but highly competitive market for architectural services," commented Adrian Dobson, RIBA Executive Director Members. "However, a significant number of practices highlight a growing hesitancy on the part of clients to allow projects to proceed to construction. Many cite the uncertain conditions created by Brexit as the dominant factor causing clients to stall projects.
"In recent months practices in the North of England and the Midlands and East Anglia have been noticeably more upbeat than those in London and the South of England, but this north-south difference has now started to narrow considerably."
In terms of practice size, large practices (with 51+ staff) seem the most positive, returning a workload balance figure of +50. Medium-sized practices (with 11 - 50 staff) returned a balance figure of +4, and small practices (with 1 - 10 staff) returned a balance figure of +6.
In terms of different work sectors, the private housing sector was virtually unchanged, standing at +7 in September 2018, compared to +6 last month. The public-sector workload forecast (balance figure -3) and the community sector workload forecast (balance figure -2) also saw little change - both remained in negative territory.
The commercial sector forecast saw the greatest movement, falling back from +9 in August to -2. This is the first time the commercial sector has fallen into negative territory since March 2018, which reinforces the sense that clients feel far more nervous about committing to new commercial projects.
In contrast to the RIBA Future Trends Workload Forecast, the RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index rose marginally this month, standing at +4 in September 2018, up from +3 in August.
The staffing forecast for large practices (51+ staff) was +43, for medium-sized practices (11 - 50 staff), -4 (down from zero last month), and small practices (1 - 10 staff) +4. Large practices remain far more confident about their ability to maintain and increase staffing levels than those in other size categories, while smaller and medium-sized practices areh less confident about taking on additional staff in the short to medium term.
Practices in Scotland (balance figure +20), London (balance figure +9) and the Midlands and East Anglia (balance figure +8) seem more upbeat about taking on additional staff than those in the other nations and regions of the UK. Mirroring the Workload Index, practices in the North of England saw a significant dip in confidence about staffing: their balance figure fell to -3 in September, down from +11 in August.