Tag Archive | "ICTs"

My 8 step guide to a multi-billion pound business


After a lot of study and reading all kinds of authoritative sources I think I’ve worked out a business idea that lets you build a multi-billion pound business over the course of a few years. Like all projects it has a logical plan to make sure everything happens as it should. It goes like this:

First, you need to have a workforce based in a lower-cost economy than ours, which isn’t actually that hard to achieve these days. Even our expensive European cousins are trying very hard to drop down to a third world economy rather than accept the Euro is doomed. However, basing it outside Europe is preferable.

Then you need to reinterpret the meaning of the phrase “business specific”. Make it mean “works for you and can read”. This is important; if you want to deploy your workforce over here they need to be able to get in (not that hard to do, apparently) and be permitted to work here. That needs a Visa, but luckily you can use the ICT option. That allows you to import workers who have particular knowledge of your business. Hence the need for reinterpretation; if you don’t, they won’t qualify as ICTs and you can’t use them.

These valuable workers need paying of course, and there are rules about that. For less than a year’s stay, for example, they have to be paid £24,000. Not a problem, it only says you have to pay them that, what they actually get is a different matter. After all, you are paying for the travel and accommodation, so let’s offset that against the £24,000. That way you can pay them a little bit more than they get at home and spend the rest on their expenses. Or even yours.

Ah yes, accommodation can be expensive. Best way to economise is to share it among as many people as possible. After all they’re only here temporarily so can rough it for a while.

Better make sure the workers never ever let anyone see their pay slips while we’re at it. Wouldn’t want to disclose our margins, would we?

Right, so now we have a skilled workforce in place at roughly a third the cost of the locals. Time to drum up some work for them to do. So let’s sell them to UK businesses as a cheaper alternative to using the expensive workers they normally employ. With the money saved earlier we can afford to put them out at two thirds the usual charge, so the client must be making a big saving. Easy.

Then, once we have control, we have other options to maximise revenue. If there’s a bug in something, don’t try and fix it, that’s just a fudge. Rewrite it properly, from scratch. Much more work for your workers to do, not only re-writing it but testing it and releasing it and re-training the users.

More work means more people; don’t really care how good they are. Better get some more ICTs organised then. Advertise back home that you’ll sponsor an ICT for a mere £1000, no actual job offer required. That will get the applicants flooding in.

And when the locals kick up a fuss, persuade some senior politician – ideally one who is rapidly approaching sainthood – that the skills don’t exist locally and you have the only alternative. Make sure the skills don’t exist locally, of course, by only advertising roles at non-viable rates that only your workers can live with.

And the final bonus point: in only a few years you will have killed off the local industry totally and have it all for yourself.

Brilliant plan, isn’t it? Guaranteed to succeed. Wonder why nobody’s thought of it already…

About the author: Alan Watts

Alan has worked in IT for most of the last 35 years, and first went freelance in 1996. He has been a PCG member from its start and has been spreading the message that freelancing is a professional career choice for many years. Alan also runs Malvolio’s Blog, a personal but highly informative take on the life of the modern freelance.

Alan Watts, Principal Consultant, LPW Computer Services

© 2011 All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

Image: Sarah Xmas 06 family sketch by ndrwfgg

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Am I in scope or not? Nope, no idea…


I‘m spending quite a lot of time these days sitting on the train between home and work. It’s not enough time to do the Times crossword, nor to dig out the laptop and do half a day’s work. Even if it were the “aircraft-style seating” is exactly that, too cramped to allow you to do anything apart from sit and stare out of the window.

Doing that, you can’t help but notice the huge amount of hardware that is spread around the edges of our railway system. There are boxes of all sizes, some with arrays of cabling, some seemingly freestanding. There are odd little plaques on station platforms next to the track with sliders on that serve no obvious purpose. Some boxes are labelled but many are not. And all this on top of all the signals and points and speed limit signs and so on. you expect to see anyway.

And all this complexity so you can get on a train, be moved though a series of connections and arrive within two feet of where you got off yesterday. In other words, that complex infrastructure doesn’t impact on you in the slightest; you can get to where you’re going without having to think about it at all.

So what a shame that same approach doesn’t apply to legislation

I’ve been looking at two different set of documents recently, the clarification of the Agency Workers Regulations and some of the material around the latest position on ICTs. These are complex subjects, admittedly, but in essence the aim of the documentation is to allow you to determine to what extent the relevant legislation affects you personally. And I think both have failed in that aim.

The AWR guidance, apart from containing more typos and grammatical errors than I’ve seen in a hundred other HMG papers combined, is bafflingly opaque on perhaps its most fundamental question: am I as a freelance with my own company in scope of these regulations or not? Nope, no idea…

The reason, apparently, is because the authors want to be able to exclude artificial avoidance measures taken by the unscrupulous. They do this by including lots of fuzzy wording that’s open to interpretation. So to pursue the railway analogy, the points may be set to take you to Wales, but you may still end up in Cornwall. Why, nobody knows.

It’s the same with ICTs. The criteria are clearly stated: for example, work here for up to 12 months and you have to be paid £24,000 a year in salary. Except they haven’t defined “salary”, they haven’t defined what allowances go to make up that salary and some of their attempted clarifications are actually mutually exclusive.

Now these documents have been written by clever, educated people who have a solid grasp of the matter in hand. You have to conclude that the ambiguities in the documents are deliberate. You may accept that this is to minimise the risk of avoidance of the rules, but I’m afraid I don’t. As I said to my previous MP when debating the Arctic case, the best way to avoid people breaking the rules is the make the rules binary. You can’t really apply uncertainty theory to a set of points and expect to end up on the right track.

All in all, it’s a hell of a way to run a railway.

About the author: Alan Watts

Alan has worked in IT for most of the last 35 years, and first went freelance in 1996. He has been a PCG member from its start and has been spreading the message that freelancing is a professional career choice for many years. Alan also runs Malvolio’s Blog, a personal but highly informative take on the life of the modern freelance.

Alan Watts, Principal Consultant, LPW Computer Services

© 2011 All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited

Image: Fishers of people by LivingOS

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Intra Company Transfers – a BIG step in the right direction


It seems there has been a major step forward in the battle to bring a little sanity to the importing of non-EU workers under the Intra Company Transfer visa rules. This has long been a bone of contention, most notably in the IT contractor market, but also in some other areas such as engineering. Today’s change in the rules marks a step change that should benefit UK PLC

Firstly let’s be very clear that there is nothing wrong with the concept of ICTs. Given the multinational nature of many big companies these days, it would be foolish to put artificial barriers in the way of being able to move key staff around to where they are needed. And listening to the screams of protest from some corners – most notably, that of St Vince of Cable who, you might think, ought to know better – limiting ICTs will only spell doom and disaster for the UK economy.

Or will it?

Well, no, to be honest. If you look at the numbers carefully, it is clear that there is a baseline of ICTs that has remained pretty much constant for some time. This, we can assume, represents the number of key people that are moving in and out for good reason. However, the overall number of ICTs has been growing, and growing at an increasing rate, for some time. This coincides very closely with the increasing use of off-shoring work to save money. That is something that started in the mid 80s but which has been steadily accelerating ever since and is now something of an epidemic. But, and it’s a big but, in recent years the growth exceeds the amount of work to be done; especially in a time of recession and business slowdown. Which puts good people out of work.

OK, so businesses need to optimise their bottom line, and going to the cheapest supplier is a way to do it. Provided, of course, the quality is comparable which, to be blunt, it quite often isn’t.

But where it’s really gone wrong is in the use of ICTs. These are meant to be used to bring in specialists for short term purposes. With the greatest will in the world, a specialist is not someone you would expect to be taken into a training regime to learn how to do the job they are supposed to be a specialist in. And that is what has been happening. ICT visas have been used to bring in technical staff that, while technically qualified, can’t do the job. They are here to learn how to do it and then take their new skills back home. The only reason that can work, economically, is if the cost of transport, accommodation and salary is low enough to produce a viable profit. Which it is, but only if the wages in question are really low; on a par, for the sake of an example, with what a well qualified coder will get in, say, Mumbai.

So what has changed then?

Basically, HMG has responded to a long and hard fought campaign by the likes of the PCG that tried to demonstrate that ICTs were being abused in order to keep the economies of importing staff viable. As a result they’ve made a very simple change: if your ICT is for a year or less, you must be paid £24,000, if it’s any longer, you must be paid £40,000. Which are still a bit less than the going market rate for the skills in question, but a lot more than what has been the norm. And, of course, totally irrelevant if you are bringing in an established, skilled employee who will no doubt already be on a market rate salary.

It’s early days to see what impact this will have: there are several ways the new rules can be neutralised. Indeed, one of the issues in proving abuse of ICTs exists has been the total lack of any documentary proof about how much people were being paid in salary and expenses and there’s no reason to believe the suppliers will willingly give up a very lucrative market. But it is a big step in the right direction.

PCG – and one or two very dedicated individuals – are to be congratulated for achieving a major success. Not least by the several thousand UK-based contractors whose jobs are now an awful lot safer.

About the author: Alan Watts

Alan has worked in IT for most of the last 35 years, and first went freelance in 1996. He has been a PCG member from its start and has been spreading the message that freelancing is a professional career choice for many years. Alan also runs Malvolio’s Blog, a personal but highly informative take on the life of the modern freelance.

Alan Watts, Principal Consultant, LPW Computer Services

© 2011 All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited<

Image: Giant Foot by squacco

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