Tag Archive | "election"

Motion vs. progress?

Usually I find one thing to talk about each week; even in the depths of the silly season there is something relevant to freelancing worth trying to write a few hundred words about. This week, for some reason, I haven’t found a single thing. Perhaps I’ve been a bit too busy to notice – you could say the current client presents some interesting challenges – but I have tried. Honest…

The main event in the news – well, the BBC version of the news so it really must be important – is all about the Millibands and the will-he-won’t-he tedium of will big brother work with little brother or not (and he won’t, it seems). Sorry but from here I really don’t care that much. While Her Majesty’s Opposition is an important element of the government process, precisely who wears the various labels in the Shadow Cabinet is actually fairly irrelevant. Unless you’re interested in who fights the next election, which is far enough away to be of zero interest, I’m afraid. And anyway, I’m a contractor; there are far more important things to worry about.

One of them is a bit of a debate on EBTs. I’ve said before that these may be a good thing for some but you have to go in with your eyes really wide open. The risks are just that bit too high if you don’t fully understand the scheme and, equally importantly, the government’s attitude to them. My point is that since HMG have effectively shut down EBTs from next year, people who sign up to one now are at a considerably higher risk of investigation than those who have been using them for some time. This, for some people, seems to be an unreasonable position. Heigh ho…

There’s been another discussion on Security Clearances and the old Catch-22 of no clearance no job, no job no clearance. Somehow this has mutated into a discussion about how clearance works. That’s really not what it’s about, the process and the parameters work well and are pretty effective. All I’m really interested in is being allowed to get in front of the hiring manager to sell my services, which is something that I and a majority of other contractors can’t do at the moment. I’m more than happy to take my chances of persuading a hirer that I’m worth the effort of sponsoring for clearance, but I can’t do that if I can’t ever get to meet them.

And of course the whole visa issue rumbles on. This is getting increasingly confused, not helped by a certain Mr. Cable’s interventions. Nobody is saying we shouldn’t allow ICTs; there are plenty of instances where they are entirely justifiable. However, when you consider that some of the people complaining about the proposed cap on them haven’t actually used the ones they are allowed to use, just what is the problem? Apart from reading that a small number of companies from one country have brought in several thousands under ICT visas. The argument is not about ICTs, it’s about misuse of ICTs. Some supposedly well informed people will insist on missing that minor detail.

So, lots of motion, not a lot of progress. Bit like the current contract, really.

Alan Watts can found at LinkedIn.
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Image: Progress by kevindooley

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Brave new world…

When I wrote my piece last week, I was saying I was suffering a little from having to write it before the election result was known. I didn’t think that I would still be waiting when I started putting this week’s one together…

Anyway, it is all settled for now, and it looks like we really are in for some interesting times. Clearly the next budget will not be pleasant for anyone; certainly some of my contacts in the Public Sector are seriously worried about what the future is going to bring. Although if the markets react positively then things should start to move and there may be more work around for everyone

On the other hand, if they change the tax thresholds – something I actually think is a damned good idea – then a lot of contractors are going to have to rethink their payroll policies a bit. Also if the new government deliver their promised Office of Tax Simplification and put IR35 at the head of the list, then we will have something to celebrate.

Elsewhere there was a far more interesting story on the news this morning. A hospital in Nottingham has switched its food supplier to a consortium of local farms, saving themselves several millions a year but cutting out the retail supply layer and many thousands of food miles. The farmers are also delighted; as one said, until recently he was looking at closing down, now he’s making a profit.

Now that’s something the whole of government needs to take notice of. A few years back I proposed the creation of virtual consultancies, who pick up parcels of work that are normally handed out to the big consultancies (who are usually using contractors to do the real work anyway…). The Nottingham hospital is precisely that – ok, using food instead of code, but you know what I mean – then we are truly in a brave new world.

By the way, what do we call the new government? The BBC is sticking with “the Liberaldemocratconservativecoalition”, which is less than snappy. “ConDem” doesn’t sound quite right either.

But one anagram of Lib Dem Tory is “Bye, Mild Rot”, which sounds fairly appropriate…

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Image: Summer Baby by zetson

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Fingers crossed…

Now here’s a problem. I try to write about things that have happened during the week that might affect us freelancers. Usually I manage to find something worthy of comment, but this week it’s going to be a bit tricky.

It’s because the Election is on a Thursday that I have a slight problem. I normally write these words of wisdom on a Thursday, you see, which means that as I sit here with voting still going on, it’s a bit tricky to find something to talk about that will still be relevant on Friday morning.

There’s not been a lot of news either, if you discount Nigel Farage’s plane crash or the Labour candidate in Bootle losing the end of a finger when bitten by a dog (which all goes to prove everyone’s a critic). There have been some interesting surveys around. One of these shows that over 50% of contractors would vote Conservative. So perhaps there are a lot of people that agree with my views on why I hate this Government.

So I’ll wait a little longer until the exit polls are published and see what they think will happen. In 2005 they were spot on in predicting the result. Then again, the previous four were miles away from the reality. I’ll return to that point a little later

Meanwhile I’ve started hunting the next contract. Tricky operation, with limited internet access at work (I use my own mobile internet link, but we’re in a bit of a black hole where I work) and obviously I can’t keep calling agencies up from there either. Not that agents ever seem to answer the phone these days, it’s a constant litany of “He’s away from his desk” and answer phones. Actually they are well named, answer phones, since that’s all they do. If only someone would invent a Call-you-back-right-away phone, we might get somewhere.

So, the initial exit poll is in. Have to say it’s a bit inconclusive; a swing away from Labour (or, more likely, away from Gordon) but showing the Lib Dems’ share going down, which seems a bit unlikely. And all of a sudden they’re talking about voting reform rather than economic recovery. Good to know the politicians understand what’s really important…

Anyway, no real decisive conclusion. So let’s wait until a few real counts are declared and see what that tells us…

Hmmmm… interesting. Two declared, both safe Labour seats. Both big swings to the Tories. Perhaps IR35 is doomed after all? Fingers crossed!

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Image: Crossing my fingers… by Erica_Marshall

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May you live in interesting times…

Never has the old Chinese curse seemed so relevant!

There was an interesting article on Radio 4 the other day as I was driving from the airport to work. It took the average UK family’s net income of £20,500 and used that to illustrate what the nation’s finances would look like on that scale. It turns out that the family would be borrowing £6,500 a year on top. That’s borrowing to spend on the weekly shopping, mind you, not borrowing to buy cars and houses and plasma screens. Worrying, isn’t it…

Then they looked at the various plans to cut that borrowing. The best case, apparently, would reduce it by around £250, leaving £6250. Not exactly encouraging.

So what would this mean for us freelances? Well if I knew that I’d be a rich man, but the obvious conclusion is that public sector spending will need to come down with a bit of a bump. That’s bad news if your contract is in the Public Sector, since the knee-jerk reaction of accountants everywhere is to ditch the agency workers first.

But it’s worse than that…

It means there are fewer jobs available for the freelance to apply for in the public sector, so they’ll have to look elsewhere. The problem is the market these days is so polarised into market verticals, that agents are usually incapable of putting people forward for a role if they aren’t already working in that vertical. So all the ex-public sector people become instantly unemployable.

And there’s more…

Also likely to be removed from full time employment are a raft of middle managers and back office workers. They’ll have to go somewhere, so there will be even more job seekers out there trying to grab whatever work is available.

And finally…

If the markets don’t like the new Government and their spending plans, then the stagnation in new business development will continue and contracts will become even scarcer. On the other hand they may see the new Government as the equivalent of the Second Coming and all of a sudden everything goes rocketing away. That would be nice, only I have the nasty feeling that the agencies are not so used to dealing with commoditised contractors that they will have to re-learn how to deal with a market where demand exceeds supply; after all, they haven’t had to for at least five years.

End result? Who knows; either there are fewer jobs to spread around more people and rates will be forced down for those in work, or there will be more jobs but proportionately more people going for them, meaning rates will be forced down…

Looks like an interesting – and slightly worrying- few weeks coming up.

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Image: Worries by privatenobby

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Back to normality…

Now that the real dark cloud over the UK has blown away, I suppose we ought to focus on the important stuff, like the election.

I was quite lucky with the flights, since I was already driving rather than flying. Not quite as lucky as one friend, who’s been stuck in the Seychelles for an extra week (and he’s out of contract so had nothing to rush back for either). The problem I have now is the way the election seems to be heading.

Thanks to a bravura – or was it merely unchallenged – performance by Nick Clegg, the polls are all up on the air again. I realise this is probably more of an X-Factor thing than any kind of considered response to his policies, but it does bring back the haunting fear of a hung Parliament. After all, I know more than a few people who vote for party leaders regardless (hence the years of St Bliar) so it is possible that’s what we’ll get.

Don’t get me wrong, I think there is a lot wrong in Whitehall at the moment, and a good kicking is probably needed – but not this time around, please…

Consider the plight of us poor downtrodden freelance workers. The Tories have in effect promised to do something positive about the dreaded IR35. I hope that means repeal, but even if it doesn’t, we ought to get something we can at least understand and deal with; not something you can say about IR35. However, if they aren’t the guys in charge on May 7th, but some mixed-up partnership or even, forbid the thought, a Labour majority government, then we can forget about any chance of repeal, or even a rethink. That might be a selfish view but hey, I’m a freelance, I look after me.

OK, so the Lib Dems also said they would repeal IR35. That EDM calling for repeal was led by Lorley Burt, and she has recently placed another one on the table on the same subject, just as a reminder. Problem is, her party is also promising to raise taxes on the “better off” in order to pay for various other programmes, like windmill making. Net result, I suspect, will be not to my advantage.

Also, just to add to the confusion, we seem to be seeing stories that are effectively supporting IR35 saying interestingly stupid things like “it underpins other important legislation”. Does it? First time I’ve noticed, to be honest, after ten years of fighting it. Of course there is quite an industry relying on IR35 being there, so perhaps these musings are not entirely unbiased. Who knows…

Still two more weeks and we might find out. Or perhaps we already do: I’m writing this on Thursday, by the time it gets published the latest leadership “debate” will have happened. Perhaps Mr Clegg has already shot himself in the foot, or been outed by the other two. But then if I could predict things like that, I wouldn’t need to work for a living.

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Image: Screen Test 3 by kfisto

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Look for the silver lining…

Just for a change, there’s a dark cloud hanging over Britain. Instead of the usual one we get from having to deal with the Government and all its works, we’re covered in volcanic ash.

By a stroke of absolutely brilliant planning – OK, by sheer blind luck – I’m not flying home this weekend but driving, so I can collect my new motor. Which means the inevitable disruption at the airports won’t affect me, although there must be an awful lot of upset people out there.

I’ve had a read of the main party manifestos (sorry, chaps, but I refuse to take UKIP or the Greens seriously). I’d like to say they make interesting reading, except they don’t. There are clear differences between them; Labour’s big state vs the Tories’ personal responsibility vs the Lib Dem’s mutually exclusive proposals (have you seen what they plan for power supplies in the future…?) but nothing that blazes off the page and says “This will make things better”.

I can understand why, of course: Labour have no new ideas, Tories have no figures and Lib Dems have no clue. While work for us freelancers seems to be picking up again, it could all come to a shuddering halt if the markets don’t like what they see as the Election progresses, which is a worry.

My other concern, especially for those working in the Public Sector at the moment, are the promises to cut the “overheads” of the back office staff. Sorry guys, but while Gay Outreach Consultants might have a marginal role in the scheme of things, what I’m currently doing is saving my client a significant amount of money. I suspect I’m not alone either, since people do actually understand the need for efficiency and there are a lot of improvement programmes going on. But I don’t suppose for a moment that anyone will actually do a cost-based analysis of who should be cut and who retained, it will be ten percent of headcount off please and no excuses.

That said, some in the public sector have a strange idea of how to save money. There’s a programme running here that will spend around half a million to see how much they can save by consolidating systems. I said I’d do it for two hundred thousand, but sadly they didn’t take me up on that.

Still, in a way it’s good news for freelancers. If you can’t recruit – which seems to be the most likely short term outcome – you still need people to do the work. More to the point you need them for as long as it takes to finish the job then you let them go. Precisely what us freelancers deliver.

As they say, every cloud has a silver lining…

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