Arup announces layoffs as UK construction slows

17 August 2023 3 min. read
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Engineering consultancy Arup has made a wave of redundancies, including senior staff, after encountering a slowdown in work across the UK. The move comes in anticipation of any “continued market shifts”, as the UK construction sector encounters sustained turbulence.

“As an employee-owned organisation, we have a responsibility to all our members, clients and collaborators to ensure that we are right-sized for the type of work our talented designers, engineers and sustainability consultants are tackling, both today and in the future,” Arup explained, in a statement to Architects’ Journal.

UK infrastructure project leaders have endured one of the toughest periods in their modern history. While they showed surprising flexibility during the lockdown phase of a global pandemic, three years on, they face complex issues on all fronts. The war in Ukraine continues to disrupt supply chains and send energy costs soaring, and at home a period of heightened political instability has left developers guessing about the kind of regulatory changes they will be facing.

Arup announces layoffs as UK construction slows

As a result, while economists maintain that the UK economy has avoided falling into a technical recession, the traditional bellwether of economic health that is the construction sector has fallen into a crisis of its own. According to warnings from the Construction Products Association (CPA) in particular, the industry is towards an “acute recession”, with the organisation forecasting construction output to fall by 7% in 2023, before recovering slowly in 2024 with growth of just 0.7%.

In this context, Arup sees the need to plan for the worst, with firm adding, “We are taking this difficult but necessary decision and offering this option now so that the firm is well-positioned to tackle any continued market shifts while maintaining Arup’s commitment to excellence in project delivery.”

Arup has a total UK workforce of around 6,000, including around 57 architects. As reported by Architects’ Journal, the latest wave of “difficult but necessary” decisions have seen roughly 200 people lose their jobs across the multidisciplinary firm. Voluntary redundancies are also understood to have been offered to senior members of staff, with negotiations ongoing.

One of the leading factors in Arup’s changes seems to have been the status of HS2. The planned high-speed railway line in England was slated to run from its southern terminus in London to the country’s most northerly point, Manchester, with branches to Birmingham and the East Midlands – with completion between 2029 and 2033, depending on approval for later stages. But earlier in 2023, the project was frozen by the government.

Amid the rising costs of construction, thanks to record levels of inflation which the government has failed to bring to heel for over a year, HS2 is reportedly on pause for at least two years – while a number of major roadbuilding schemes have also been mothballed. Whether the project will be picked back up remains a matter of speculation, though, with it recently being described by Nicholas Hellen and Tom Calver in The Sunday Times as a “£100 billion money pit”.

Arup has been involved with the HS2 project since 2015. This included involvement in the Grimshaw-designed HS2 terminus at Euston, which has been sent back to the drawing board; work on HS2’s East Midlands leg to Leeds, which was axed by the government in late 2021; and civil engineering and environmental services on Phase 2a, from the West Midlands to Crewe, which has also been paused.