The market seems steady, if not growing, but London and Northern Ireland remain pessimistic due to Brexit uncertainty

The Royal Institute of British Architects’ (RIBA) Future Trends Workload Index continued recovery this month, rising from +12 in January 2018 up to +17 in February; the third consecutive monthly increase since its pre-Christmas low.

In terms of geographical analysis the picture remains mixed. Northern Ireland returned the lowest balance figure of zero. Practices in London also continued to be relatively pessimistic about medium term workloads, with a balance figure of just +1. By contrast practices in the South East returned a balance figure of +21, Wales and the West +22, the Midlands and East Anglia +27 and the North of England +32.

Analysing the February 2018 workload forecast data in terms of practice size, large practices (51+ staff) experienced a dip in confidence, returning a balance figure of zero; medium-sized practices (11 – 50 staff) with a balance figure of +8 were more upbeat, but it was small practices (1 – 10 staff) that were most confident this month, with a balance figure of +18.

In terms of different work sectors, it was mainly a positive picture this month. The private housing sector workload forecast remained the most upbeat sector forecast and continued its upward momentum, rising to +21 in February 2018, up from +13 in January 2018. The commercial sector workload forecast was also on the rise, with a balance figure of +7 in February 2018, up from +1 in January 2018.

Although relatively weaker, the public sector workload forecast (balance figure +2) was back in positive territory. Only the community sector forecast moved downwards, standing at -4 in February 2018 compared with -1 in January.

The RIBA Future Trends Staffing Index was marginally higher this month, standing at +6 in February 2018 compared with +5 in January.

This month large practices (51+ staff), with a staffing balance figure of zero, became less confident about their ability to increase staffing levels in the medium term. Medium-sized practices (11 – 50 staff) with a balance figure of +13 were much more positive about future staffing levels, whilst small practices (1 – 10 staff) with a balance figure of +5 were more cautious.

RIBA Executive Director Members, Adrian Dobson, said:

“Commentary received from our participating practices continues to suggest a reasonably steady if not growing market. However larger practices and those based in London and Northern Ireland remain pessimistic about their future workloads; this is most likely due to the uncertainty surrounding the Brexit negotiations and also perhaps the current lack of a sitting Government in Northern Ireland. The private housing sector seems to be the main engine of any growth and a number of practices have commented that a fast-developing build-to-rent market is paramount to their current and future workloads.”