Confidence surges but actual workload remains 5% lower – RIBA Future Trends January 2020

The RIBA Future Trends Workload Index surged into positive territory for the first month of 2020 with a balance figure of +17 – up 19 points.

Small practices led the surge returning a balance figure of +14 (up from -6), and medium and large-sized practices followed suit with a combined balance figure of +47 (up from + 38).

All regions expected workloads to increase over the next three months: London sprung to +2 (up from -18); the Midlands & East Anglia rose to +24 (from -13); the South of England to +15 (from 0); Wales and the West +25 (from +14); and the North of England +26 (also from +14).

In terms of different sectors, the private housing sector (+18) rose significantly by 16 points, and the commercial sector (+3) returned a positive balance figure for the first time since May last year. The community sector also climbed out of negative territory (sitting at 0) and the public sector rose by one point (to -3).

The RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index also rose slightly, with a balance figure of +5 – up from +2. But while 32% of practices expect workloads to grow, only 11% expect an increase in full-time staff.

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

“While January saw the largest confidence rise since Future Trends monitoring began, and the highest balance score since June 2018, for architects, this has not yet translated into real workload growth.

Workloads remain on average 5% lower than they were a year ago, and 20% of respondents told us they were personally under-employed due to a lack of work.

While some practices pointed to an active housing market and felt political stability brought by the election result could have a positive impact on workloads, long standing concerns over Brexit remained. Until trade agreements with the EU have been crystallised and government spending plans have been made clear, we can continue to expect reports of a competitive market and hesitation on the part of clients.

Nevertheless, this month’s results are good news; growth in confidence can be a good indicator of real growth to come.”