Architects report onsite delays due to product shortages – RIBA Future Trends June 2021 

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has published the latest Future Trends survey results, a monthly report monitoring business and employment trends affecting the architects’ profession.

In June 2021 the overall RIBA Future Trends Workload Index stayed at a similar level to May, increasing slightly by 1 point to a balance figure of +31. Optimism about future workloads remains strong. Actual workloads are 11% higher than a year ago. 38% of practices expect workloads to grow in the coming three months, 54% expect them to remain the same, and 7% expect them to decrease. These results indicate that recovery continues.

In January’s Future Trends report, 63% suggested that the new trading arrangement with the EU would have a detrimental effect on the availability of building materials.  In June’s Future Trends, the RIBA asked whether building materials shortages are affecting architects’ work. The results showed that difficulties in sourcing construction products are causing on-site delays for 63% of practices, and a quarter (25%) report site work being put on hold.  Delays are not restricted to the construction stages, with 18% reporting delays in the design process.

Other reports received of significant challenges to the architect’s market include:

• labour shortages

• difficulty obtaining affordable Professional Indemnity Insurance with the right level of cover

• the speed of the planning application process causing project delays

• shortages of construction products disrupting project delivery and creating project cost inflation

• the potential effects of the gathering third wave and the planned lifting of Covid-19 restrictions

Once again, all regions expect workloads to grow over the next three months. The North of England (+49), and Wales & the West (+45) are the two most positive regions. Optimism in London continues to grow, with a balance figure of +28, up from +22 in May.  This month is the first time London has exceeded February 2020’s pre-pandemic figure of +22

Private housing continues to outperform other sectors with a very positive balance figure of +27. Whilst this is a fall of fifteen points on May’s all-time high of +42, only one in ten practices expect a decrease in private housing work.

The commercial sector is showing signs of sustained recovery, positing a balance figure of +13, up four points. This is the highest balance score for the sector since the EU referendum was held. Optimism about the public sector remains comparatively muted, with a balance figure in June of +4, down from +5 in May. The community sector persistently remains in negative territory, posting a balance figure of -6, down from -3 in May.

On balance, all regions expect workloads to increase in the next three months, as do all sizes of practice.

In terms of staffing: 

  • The RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index dipped back down to April’s level of +11 after a slight increase in May.
  • 16% (down by 3%) of practices expect to employ more permanent staff over the coming three months, whilst 5% expect to employ fewer, the same figures as June.  79% (up 3%) expect staffing levels to stay the same over the coming 3 months.
  • Personal underemployment fell again by 2% and now stands at a to 14%

RIBA Head of Economic Research and Analysis, Adrian Malleson, said: 

“Overall, the June Future Trends findings indicate that the recovery in the architecture market continues.  The overall workload balance has been holding at around +30 throughout the second quarter of 2021. Private housing remains strong, and the commercial sector continues to recover. No region expects workloads to contract, and some are very optimistic.

The delays and shortages of building materials that we report are not solely the result of the UK leaving the EU.  There is increased demand for materials, both within the UK and overseas, as construction activity gathers pace.  The effects of the Suez Canal blockage are still unwinding.  The UK is experiencing workforce shortages within important areas, such as distribution (especially HGV drivers) and among builders merchants; though this is also linked to Brexit.

Nevertheless, the commentary received in June continues to reflect a positive market. Many practices report increasing enquiries and workloads, particularly in the private housing sector.

RIBA continues to be on hand, providing support and resources to our members as they navigate these challenging times.”