Near 25% drop underscores firms’ fears over Brexit impact

Nabila Zulfiqar

Arb chair Nabila Zulfiqar

The number of EU-qualified architects seeking permission to work in the UK fell by almost a quarter last year, according to new figures released by professional regulator the Architects Registration Board.

Figures in Arb’s newly published annual report show that just 945 EU professionals sought clearance to practise in this country last year, down from 1,232 the previous year. Because Arb reports cover calendar years rather than financial years the 2017 figures are the first to provide a full annual snapshot since 2016’s Brexit vote.

The downturn – a 23% year-on-year decline – will be pointed to by recruitment professionals and big London practices as a crucial confirmation of the anecdotal evidence they have reported about staff jitters in the wake of Britain’s decision to leave the EU.

The Arb said that while the number of EU applicants was lower than in 2016 and 2015, the 945 figure was higher than in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Last month, Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners used its annual financial report to underscore its fears about post-Brexit recruitment and retention. Foster & Parthers and Amanda Levete’s AL_A pracitce have also publicly aired concens over the ability to attract and retain EU staff, something the capital’s largest practices are incresingly reliant on.

RSHP said it was worried not only about its own recruitment and retention of EU staff, but about how Brexit would “affect the UK architecture industry as a whole”.

Many EU architects already working in the country have spoken of feeling less welcome since the referendum result. The RIBA has repeatedly demanded certainty from the government over the rights of EU citizens already in the country as well as continued mutual recognition of architects’ professional qualifications and an immigration system that allows them to recruit international talent. The latest figures show only 6 visas were granted in the seven months to April this year.

RSHP Leadenhall Building

RSHP staff at work in the Leadenhall Building

The number of new admissions to the Register of Architects was 5% lower in 2017 than in 2016. However the drop in applications from EU professionals was offset slightly by an increase in the UK entry route – which includes prescribed examinations that allow practitioners from other countries to demonstrate their proficiency.

The total number of architects on the register in 2017 was 39,987, a 3.8% rise on the previous year. The proportion of women on the register increased slightly between the two years, with female architects making up 27% of the list in 2017 against 26% in 2016.

In her overview of the year, Arb chair Nabila Zulfiqar said 2017 had been “a period of change” that had seen the regulator implement many of the government’s recommendations from its periodic review.

“It’s important that Arb continues to develop as a progressive and innovative regulator,” she said.

“We believe in collaborative working and going forward we will seek to inform our strategy and policy decisions through research dedicated to, and continued engagement with, our valued stakeholders.”

Elsewhere in the report, the Arb said it had seen a significant increase in misuse of title reports – launching 431 investigations in 2017, against 276 the previous year.

Despite the surge in investigations, just two prosecutions were launched against people believed to be wrongly claiming to be architects. The previous year’s Arb report said five misuse-of-title prosecutions had been successful.

The Arb said its income in 2017 was £4,740,576, up 3.2% from the previous year. Almost all of the reported income was from retention fees and registration and prescribed fees. Investment income provided £115,730 of the total.

According to the financial section of the report, staff costs – including salaries, health insurance and recruitment – rose 11.4% to £1,524,517.

The report also admitted that following the redesign and relaunch of its main website there had been a 7% drop in visitor numbers.

“While the drop in sessions on the main Arb website is disappointing it may, in part, be due to a break in tracking while the new website was launched,” it said.

“In addition there is evidence to suggest that the smaller, redesigned website now performs more efficiently – there are fewer individual page views but users are spending more time on the pages they view and our ‘bounce rate’ has dropped, suggesting users are exploring more pages as part of their sessions.”