British Architects Confidence Weakens on Fears for Future

British-based architects are losing confidence as the rate of new work is slowing, a recent survey from the Royal Institute of British Architects, (RIBA) shows. It also highlights a split between northern and southern-based practices, with northern firms more confident than their southern counterparts.

RIBA’s future trends index slipped from +24 in January to +16 in February, indicating the number of new jobs being offered to and won by architects, is rising at a slower rate than in previous months. It’s this area that showed a particular divergence in activity between northern and southern based practices. The regional future trends index for London slid to +10 in February, for southern firms it fell to +3, while northern architects remained the most optimistic with the index rising to +38 and in Wales and West England, the index rose to +22.

By size, medium-sized businesses recorded the biggest slowdown in new work – unchanged from the January index. Despite that, medium-sized architect firms were the most optimistic regarding staffing levels, with an increase in the number of firms expecting to hire more staff.

The slowdown in new business for architects, is in line with concerns over a slowdown in investment in the UK during Brexit negotiations. Investors and businesses will be unsure – for quite some time – over exactly what position the UK and its economy will be in over the next two-to-five years and already appear to be adjusting their investment plans accordingly.

Other details of the survey, meanwhile, show that new jobs by sector remain positive in the housing and commercial sector. However, the number of new public and community sector based jobs both declined in February.

With Brexit still casting a shadow of uncertainty across the whole economy, it’s no surprise that it remains very much in the forefront of many industry leader’s thoughts. And the RIBA is no different.

In response to Prime Minister Theresa May’s triggering of Article 50 on March 29, beginning the formal process for the UK to exit the European Union, the RIBA shared its views and plans.

RIBA’s president, Jane Duncan assured members that RIBA has been in regular contact with the Government to consistently highlight their concerns over Brexit and the potential impact on the architecture professional and wider building and creative industries.

“I was encouraged that mutual recognition of professional qualifications,… was recognised within the Government’s Brexit White Paper,” Jane Duncan said. “EU citizens, from outside the UK – people who we count as colleagues, friends and family - make a significant contribution to our profession. We would like to assure these colleagues that we are continuing to press Government to ensure your rights are protected as a matter of priority.”

As long as the Government invites, listens to and considers input from all the industries that make up the UK economy, then there is hope that a suitable Brexit plan can be put in place. Of course, it’s not just the needs and requirements of the UK that need to be discussed, the EU will have its own requirements that must be met. This is, of course, the core source of uncertainty over Brexit negotiations, not just exactly what the UK government will negotiate for but how those negotiations will be received and answered by the EU.

Both the UK and the EU want the best deal for their economies and people. Hopefully, most of that will be achieved in a way that’s mutually beneficial and supportive of all the countries involved.