UK’s biggest consultants say impact of vote to leave EU won’t be felt until spring next year

The country’s top consultants have said it will not be until spring next year that any significant impact of the UK’s decision to leave the EU will be felt.

As Building this week publishes its annual league table of the country’s biggest consultants, most do not expect changes until a few months into 2017.

Echoing their counterparts in the contracting industry, consultants have said the immediate impact of the 23 June referendum has been minimal.

But Gleeds chairman Richard Steer said his firm had been preparing for a downturn in work at some stage.

“We’re not seeing any effect yet but we don’t expect it to start biting until household incomes start getting stretched around Christmas,” he said. “So we’ve got to be cautious for the next few months. Brexit has really spoilt the party.”

And Hanif Kara, founding director at high-end engineer AKTII, added: “The place Brexit puts you in is that you can’t make any concrete plans until at least April.”

Exclusive research published by Building last week revealed some firms have already experienced a slowdown - almost half of 500 construction professionals surveyed said they had had projects put on hold or abandoned due to the Brexit vote.

But elsewhere some firms have begun trumpeting the opportunities they think will come from Brexit. Zaha Hadid Architects’ boss Patrik Schumacher told an event in London last week Brexit offered a “great opportunity” the UK could ill-afford to miss.

Last week the Construction Products Association said it had suspended its quarterly forecasts until next February because Brexit had made previous data out of date while not enough new figures had been produced for it to begin forecasting again.

This view is widely shared. AKTII’s Kara said: “Some projects have slowed down, and some have simply stopped, but some foreign investors are being more proactive. But the forecasts are so confusing, to try and predict anything is virtually impossible.”

On average, firms grew both their number of chartered staff and their total UK chartered staff by around 5%.

But the prospect of Brexit and a wider slowdown in the industry were already starting to be felt. The sentiment survey taken as the league tables were compiled - largely in the month before the Brexit vote - showed that where last year two-thirds of the Top 150 were optimistic about the UK’s prospects, this year just 43% were. And 58% last year said they expected trading conditions to improve, compared to just over a third this.

Mark Lacey, founding partner at QS Alinea, said the industry had been hit by rumours of redundancies but said: “There’s no evidence so far that that is the case so we go on. We’ve actually got more potential work coming through than last year. I remain cautiously optimistic.”