Optimism Returns Despite Economic Uncertainty – RIBA Future Trends May 2022

RIBA Future Trends

In May, the RIBA Future Trends Workload Index rose by eight points, to a balance figure of +13, and over the next three months 29% of practices expect workloads to increase, 16% expect them to decrease and 56% expect them to remain the same.

The private housing (+12) and commercial sectors (+6) both saw recovery, climbing five and three points respectively, while the public sector (-3) and community sector (-7) remained pessimistic about future workloads.

In terms of practice size, all expect workloads to increase: small practices (1-10 staff) posted a balance figure of +11, up by eight points, and large and medium-sized practices (11+ staff) returned a balance figure of +23, an increase of four points. 

Regionally, the picture appears largely positive too, with the Midlands & East Anglia (-22) being the only region to record a fall in confidence. Wales & the West (+10) and the North of England (+29) continued their run as the most positive regions, London rose to +22 after three months of falling confidence, and the South of England recovered from last month’s dip to +16.

In terms of staffing:

  • The RIBA Future Trends Permanent Staffing Index increased by one point to +6.
  • 12% of practices expect to employ more permanent staff over the coming three months, 6% expect to employ fewer, and 83% expect staffing levels to stay the same.
  • Medium and large-size practices (11+ staff) anticipate an increase in permanent staff, returning a combined balance figure of +19, down slightly from last month’s figure of +27.
  • Smaller practices (1 – 10 staff) also anticipate employing more staff, with an increased figure of +4.
  • Anticipated demand for staff is highest in the South of England (+13), while Wales & The West (+10), London (+7) and the North of England (+4) all posted positive balance figures. The only practices expecting to employ fewer staff are based in the Midlands & East Anglia. 

RIBA Head of Economic Research and Analysis, Adrian Malleson, said: “After a notable dip in confidence last month, the RIBA Future Trends Workload Index has recovered; architects appear optimistic about workloads and practices plan to recruit.

“However, this is against a backdrop of continued economic uncertainty and deteriorating growth forecasts for the UK. Practices remain resilient, but the profession continues to face headwinds, and we can expect the coming months to be challenging for architects, the construction industry, and the wider economy.

“Commentary received paints a mixed picture. Some practices report strong levels of enquires translating into commissions, while domestic and commercial work continues to be in demand. 

“However, some practices report the effects of project cost inflation; enquiries failing to translate into appointments, and projects cancelled as costs become clearer to clients. Delays in the planning process also continue to put a brake on project delivery, especially in protected sites and areas.

“We will continue to report these findings to the Government and work with other built environment bodies to monitor ongoing trends.”

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