Economic and political unpredictability reflected in the August 2017 RIBA Future Trends survey

The Royal Institute of British Architects’ (RIBA) monthly Future Trends workload index – a tool used to measure RIBA members’ confidence in the market for architectural services – continued a downward drift in August 2017, falling to +11 (down from, + 14 in July and the earlier high of +23 in May 2017).

Practices in the North of England (balance figure +39), the Midlands and East Anglia (balance figures +19) continued to be the most optimistic about medium term workload prospects this month. Practices in London remained by far the most cautious about future workloads, with a balance figure of -6, falling further from the figure of -2 recorded last month.

In terms of different work sectors, it was a very mixed picture this month. The private housing sector workload forecast was the stand-out performer with a balance figure of +19.This remains by far the most positive of our sector forecasts, and housing at all scales of development remains the primary engine that is sustaining modest growth in overall workloads. In contrast, the commercial sector workload forecast fell back significantly, with a balance figure of +2 in August 2017, down from +8 in July. Both the community sector workload forecast (balance figure -7) and the public-sector workload forecast (balance figure -4) fell back this month, and now stand in negative territory, indicating that our practices anticipate a fall in public and third sector work in the next quarter.

Mirroring our Workload Index, the RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index also fell this month, to +5 in August 2017 from +10 in July. However, most practices still expect their permanent staffing levels to either remain the same or increase over the coming quarter. Large practices (51+ staff), with a balance figure of +25 and medium-sized practices (11 – 50 staff), with a balance figure of +21, were more confident about future staffing levels than small practices (1 – 10 staff) with a balance figure of just +2.

RIBA Executive Director Members, Adrian Dobson, said: “August’s RIBA Future Trends survey continues with the consistent themes we have seen over summer 2017, namely a steady outlook in the medium term, but a sense of a more unpredictable longer-term outlook .

“Housing remains the area of most growth, though many of our corresponding practices report that fee competition remains fairly intense.”