Weakening business confidence leads to caution amongst commercial clients

The October 2017 Royal Institute of British Architects’ (RIBA) Future Trends Workload Index reveals workloads remain steady but architects fear businesses are commissioning fewer new commercial developments.

 The RIBA monthly Future Trends workload index – a tool used to measure RIBA members’ confidence in the market for architectural services –was unchanged this month, remaining at +17 in October 2017.

In terms of geographical analysis, practices in the North of England (balance figure +33) and the Midlands and East Anglia (balance figure +50) remain the most optimistic about medium term workload prospects. Practices in London, however, continue to be more pessimistic; the balance figure has now fallen into negative territory at -4, meaning that London practices are predicting a reduction in workloads over the next quarter. This has declined from +7 last month.

In terms of work sectors, the private housing sector workload forecast was unchanged at +18 in October 2017, and remains by far the most positive of all sector forecasts. The commercial sector workload forecast fell back slightly, with a balance figure of +5 in October 2017 (down from +7 in September); the community sector workload forecast (balance figure -4) and the public-sector workload forecast (balance figure -1) both fell into negative territories, the community sector decreased by 8.

In terms of practice size, large practices (51+ staff) returned a balance figure of +67 in October. Medium-sized practices (11 – 50 staff), were also generally positive, returning a balance figure of +62. It was small practices (1 – 10 staff), with a balance figure of +6 that were the most cautious this month.

The RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index was up a little this month, standing at +9 in October 2017 compared with +5 in September. On balance, the majority of practices expect their permanent staffing levels to either remain the same or increase over the coming quarter. Small practices (1 – 10 staff), with a balance figure of +6, and medium-sized practices (11 – 50 staff), with a balance figure of +23, were more confident about future staffing levels than large practices (51+ staff), who returned a balance figure of zero.

RIBA Executive Director Members, Adrian Dobson, said:

‘Whilst overall levels of workload again remain steady, there is a weakening in general business confidence that is leading to greater caution amongst clients in the commercial sector. Practices in this field fear that businesses are commissioning fewer new commercial developments and some practices have also commented that they are having to invest greater resourcing in chasing outstanding fees.”