A shocking reports into the state of Britain's building consultants (courtesy of the CIC and the DTI) finds that they are doing amazingly well, thank you. And contributing more to UK plc's economic well being than all those music, film, fashion and media jobs put together. We crunch the numbers.
UK consultants contribute more than £12bn to Britain's economy, according to the largest ever survey of construction professional services.

The report, commissioned by the Construction Industry Council and published exclusively in Building, has found that the work of architects, engineers, surveyors and other consultants makes up about 1.4% of the the country's GNP. The only time a comparable survey was undertaken, six years ago, the proportion was 1%.

The figures quantify just how successful UK consultants have been:

  • Their total fee income has risen 22% since 1996, and they contribute more to GNP than the fashion, music, radio and film industries combined.
  • They earn twice as much as the advertising industry and 50% more than publishing.
  • They contribute almost £1.5bn to Britain's invisible exports. By comparison, radio and TV earn a total of £700m and music and the visual arts a total of £300m.

Graham Watts, chief executive of the CIC, says the report shows the extent to which construction professionals are underappreciated by government and society. "We laud the music and entertainment industries for their contributions to the UK economy – but our architects, engineers and surveyors do so much more," he says.

The survey reveals the changing nature of the firms themselves, the work they carry out and what they earn.

Consultants are becoming more productive: the average professional member of staff is worth 19% more in real terms than they the were in the last survey. Their earnings have grown faster than those of contractors over this period.

Significant changes have been recorded in the structure of the industry: large, multidisciplinary practices have become more prevalent, there has been a 8% rise in fees derived from infrastructure projects and the European Union has become the dominant overseas market, supplanting old imperial areas such as the Middle and Far East.

We laud the music and entertainment industries – but our architects, engineers and surveyors do so much more …

Graham Watts, chief executive, CIC

Guy Hazlehurst, a consultant with Davis Langdon Consultancy, points to the rise of multidisciplinary firms as one of the report's most significant findings – these outfits account for 18% of total fee income, compared with 5% in 1996. "Less is being done by professionals dedicated to one area. For example, multidisciplinary firms now do more surveying than dedicated surveying firms," he says.

As well as becoming more versatile, firms are getting bigger. In fact, there is quite a high degree of consolidation in the sector: "Three per cent of firms generate 60% of all the fees in the sector," says Hazlehurst.

This trend towards fewer, bigger firms may partly explain the fact that consultants are becoming more integrated into clients' supply chains. The survey finds that 17% of work is being procured through a partnering arrangement, compared with 9% in 1996. Multidisciplinary firms earn one-quarter of their fee income this way.

There is bad news for anyone interested in extended the labour base of industry: female professionals account for the same 20% that they did in 1996. The situation is particularly bad in engineering and surveying, where 92% of professionals are male.

Big fish and small fry: How the UK market is structured

UK professional services firms earn a total of £12.3bn on projects in the UK
There are approximately 23,500 professional firms in the UK
A small number of large firms (3%) generate more than 60% of fee income. At the other end of the scale, 35% of all firms earn less than £150,000; they generate 2% of fee income. 56% of fee income is accounted for by partnered or negotiated agreements. Most UK fee income is earned on projects in the South-east and Greater London £1.4bn of fee income is earned by UK firms on work overseas
Approximately 225,000 people are employed by construction professional firms; 38% of this number are full members of professional institutions.

77% of all construction professional services firms operate from a single office and 81% employ fewer than 10 people; 23% of all firms are single-person practices. Three per cent of firms earn more than £7.5m a year and employ more than 50 people. 50% of the largest firms describe themselves as multidisciplinary practices.

Boys R Us

92% of all professional staff employed by engineers and quantity surveyors are male – the same as for contractors. 69% of planners and 81% of architects are male
Male professionals outnumber females by about 10:1
Male construction support staff outnumber females 20:1
Female administration support staff outnumber males 3:2

Engineering firms generate 32% of total income in the sector and employ 27% of staff. Architectural firms generate 22% of income and employ 25% of staff. Surveying firms generate 11% of income and employ 17% of staff. Management firms generate 13% of income and employ 7% of staff. Planning firms generate 3% of income and employ 6% of staff. Multidisciplinary firms generate 18% of income and employ 14% of staff.

What’s changed since the last time we looked

Fee income
CPS fee income has risen 22% in real terms since 1995/6. Rate of income growth is slightly ahead of contractors’ output for the same period. Employment
Per capita fee income by professional has increased by about 19% in real terms. The proportion of male to female staff has not improved significantly since the 1995/6 survey. The proportion of fully qualified members of professional institutions to HNC-qualified staff has reduced significantly. More construction support staff have achieved HNC status than in the previous survey. Services provided
There has been very little change in the overall proportion of services provided by the CPS sector. There have been significant changes in the type and profile of firms that deliver these services. The proportion of work undertaken by multidisciplinary firms has increased significantly. Architects are the only service providers that have maintained their market share of total output. There has been a substantial rise in the amount of output generated by very large firms – classified as those employing more than 500 people. Type of work
Fee income on new work has decreased and repair, maintenance and improvement work has increased by the same amount as a proportion of all work. Infrastructure projects have become more important: they account for 28% of all fee income, a rise of 8%. Healthcare and educational facilities have seen the largest growth in non-residential building projects. The amount of work procured through partnering agreements has increased from 9% to 17% since the last survey.