As was the case last year, the top 10 firms in all four sectors have increased the number of chartered UK staff they employ – the total now stands at 10 651. This is a 4% rise on last year's levels, although the rate of increase has slowed slightly: last year it was 6%. Consultants are also awarding pay rises above inflation, but these reflect the cautious mood, hovering around the 2-3% mark. This is slightly less generous than in 1998, when the majority planned to give 3-4% rises.
Consultants working in all sectors report that their services are in demand and that fees are creeping up towards acceptable levels. The survey accompanying the tables shows that consultants are winning 16% more private sector work than they were in 1998, especially in the commercial and office markets. Respondents say that one-fifth of their new commissions now come through partnering agreements, 11% are generated by the private finance initiative, and lottery-funded work provides another 8%. Most also say their work is totally UK-based – no surprise there, given the buoyant British market. Only a tiny proportion, 3%, now source more than half their fees from projects outside the UK.
In terms of who comes where in the league tables, there is little change among the industry's major players, a group still dominated by engineers. WS Atkins is, once again, by far the biggest of the big players – it has more than twice as many staff as any other UK consultant. There is no change of position among the top six UK consultants either.
Moving up the league tables and showing an increase in both staff numbers and fee income are engineer WSP Group and surveyor Chesterton. Both have moved up two places within the top 10; engineer Scott Wilson has slipped two. The only new entry in the top 10 is Mouchel Consulting, up from the number 11 slot last year to this year's number nine; it has 10% more staff than in 1998.
Consultants who fail to reach the holy grail of the survey's top 10 still have a reason to be cheerful, however – 42% of those who responded said clients are paying up faster than last year.
In 1998, significant number of consultants said fee invoices were taking 60-90 days to be settled. Now the majority (76%) say that 60 days is the norm, and only 10% wait longer than this.
One more change this year is that consultants seems to have caught the IT bug with a vengeance. In 1998, few were able to provide the e-mail address that was requested in the survey; now, three-quarters not only have e-mail capabilities but a web site to boot. If consultants' attitudes to IT continues to change this fast, e-commerce could have taken off by this time next year. You never know, it might even mean invoices being paid electronically by the next millennium.
There are no areas where fees are better. The competition is intense everywhere in the market Mike Jeffries, chief executive
The UK economy is soundly based. The benefits of sustained low interest rates and competitive industry are flowing through to the market Ian Reeves, chief executive
I’m cautiously optimistic. Although activity is up it’s still almost impossible to get fees that merit the amount of work you put in. Richard Pullen, managing partner
There’s plenty of work. Fees are getting closer to scale all the time Graham Morrison, partner
Fees are continuing to grow steadily. There’s nothing dramatic about it, it’s just a nice consolidation of a trend we’ve noticed. Neil Sandberg, partner