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The Not-so-Silly Season?

The Not-so-Silly Season?

Traditionally this is the Silly Season, when the Press have to file stories about singing sheep to fill the papers since there is no real news to talk about. But actually there are not one but two interesting stories to ponder this week, one illustrating how very confused the whole immigration argument has become and the other illustrating just how out of touch with reality the Senior Civil Service seems to be.

Firstly, immigration. A large delegation of politicos, business leaders and sports stars (why sports stars?) led by Mr Cameron has been dispatched to boost our trade with India. Given that they are a tiger economy in their own right, this is probably a good move. Snag is, the Indians and Vince Cable have been talking about opening up the barriers to immigration while everyone else is talking about closing them. Remind me, what is the definition of “Coalition”?

Still, Mr Cable is actually correct; bless him; the ability to allow highly skilled workers in to the country to fill necessary gaps in our native skills is a good thing, not least because we have signed reciprocal treaties that mean we have to do so. Sadly this has got wrapped up with the whole net immigration argument which in turn has evolved from the last government’s unofficial but very real open door policy. We do actually need these skilled people, be they heart surgeons or chefs who understand Thai cuisine. Provided they pay their way and add some value to the UK economy, what’s the problem?

However, before we get all optimistic about them, how about the government looks at abuses of the system first? There isn’t a skills shortage in IT; we have 40,000 IT graduates out of work and hundreds of good applicants for almost every role. Why then, do we allow IT staff to come in on Intra-Company Transfers in their thousands to learn how to do our jobs so they can export them back home?

This is an entirely different issue to the one about net immigration. It would be nice if HMG and the Press could get that difference clear so we can have a reasoned argument about it…
The other interesting story is that the current IT Director for HMRC, a certain Mr Singh, is finishing his three year fixed term contract but staying in post as a freelance through his own shiny new limited company. Instant cries of “Foul” and “Why isn’t he being done under IR35?” arose. Unfairly perhaps, since he hasn’t yet had to fill in a tax form so his position under IR35 is unknown. OK, he’s a classic IR35-caught candidate, and I can’t believe HMRC would let him get away with anything, but he hasn’t done anything wrong yet.

Or has he?

The point of a Fixed Term Contract is that it has a definitive, pre-agreed end date: the clue is in the name. So why, after three years, is there not a suitable replacement lined up ready to go, either from the open market or by promotion from within? Is there really only one person suitable in the whole of the UK? Surely not…

But there’s even more to this debacle…

They are paying Mr Singh as a freelance a day rate equal to around four times his previous salary. HMRC mandarins claim this is to achieve parity with an equivalent Deloitte consultant. Fine, except Mr Singh doesn’t work for Deloitte and so doesn’t have to support myriad partners and office buildings. Nor a sales and marketing team, apparently. So while it‘s good that HMRC accept that freelance workers have greater overheads than employees, something we’ve been arguing about for at least ten years, a little bit of market perspective wouldn’t go amiss. Especially when it’s our money they’re spending.

You could also argue that Mr Singh, having failed to identify a suitable replacement, has significantly failed one of his key duties. After all, had he gone under a bus, clearly there is nobody in the organisation, or outside it, ready to take over. So much for continuity planning then.

We could also query the proper application of the OGC tendering rules for new staff and various other inconsistencies, but let’s not Labour the point more than necessary.
In May I was hopeful that our shiny new Coalition had a clear idea of where they were going and why. I confess I am beginning to have my doubts.

Alan Watts can found found at LinkedIn.
© 2010 All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

Image: Their serious sides by tim_d

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