Tag Archive | "IT Contractor"

IT Contractor Blamed for BA Computer Fiasco

British Airways had to ground all flights recently as you’re no doubt aware, and they are laying the blame at the door of an IT contractor.

What happened is a computer crash which lasted only 15 minutes caused havoc with the British Airways infrastructure, which then led to all BA flights being grounded.

This meant disruption for an estimated 75,000 passengers, with some experts guessing it could very well cost British Airways around £150 million in compensation.

Well, the buck seems to be stopping with an IT contractor, who according to BA accidentally pressed the wrong button when doing routine maintenance at Heathrow Airport. The contractor obviously didn’t take any notice of the “do not push this button” memo.

Not only that, but when the power was turned back on towards the main supply it appears that the correct procedure was not followed by the contractor, with BA claiming it was turned on way too quickly and this caused too much of a power surge which ultimately led to the computer crash.

At this point I think it’s good to mention that all this is just what British Airways are claiming, and that no guilt or innocence has been proven in a court of law. The IT contractor could be completely innocent for all we know.

Anyway, when the computers went down it caused chaos with BA flights around the world, but especially at Heathrow and Gatwick where check-in, baggage control and the phone lines where all affected.

Passengers were stuck in the airports without being able to get their luggage, while other passengers could not get their flights which meant they ended up being stranded at the airport.

One couple on their honeymoon were stuck at Heathrow Airport for 3 days. Obviously their marriage didn’t get off to the best start.

An insider source to the events commented that the effect of this 15 minute computer crash might cause even more disruption over the coming months, with data still in the system that has yet to emerge.

Some critics were trying to claim that British Airways outsourcing their IT to countries such as India was to blame, but it now appears that the contracting firm involved was an IT contracting firm in the UK.

At the moment they are yet to make a comment about the situation but I’m sure they will release a statement at some point giving their side of the story.

Who knows exactly what went on here? I’m sure the full facts will come out at some point, but what I do know is that IT contractors in the UK are a good bunch who are highly skilled and very much in demand.

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Public accounts committee takes HMRC to the woodshed

Parliament’s public accounts committee has taken HM Revenue & Customs to the woodshed for its approach to an internal IT system nightmare in the offing.

The committee absolutely laced into HMRC, calling its approach to an enormously challenging IT issue complacent, even though it could cause absolute havoc for taxpayers and government officials alike. The problem stems from a maintenance contract for its hardware and software that expires in 2017 – and with the importance of what the tax authority deals with on a day-to-day basis, the fact that HMRC has yet to line up an IT contractor to replace outgoing contractor Aspire has gotten the parliament finance watchdog’s hackles up.

The committee really let the taxman have it, remarking that HMRC not only lacked any sort of contingency plan in the event of any serious isues but that it didn’t even have the skills needed to negotiate new IT deals that wouldn’t have the government office raked over the coals or taken for a ride. These issues were raised just ahead of the 650,000 emails HMRC is preparing to send out to taxpayers who have yet to submit their self-assessment tax returns. With 31 January quite literally just around the corner, the tax authority is of course expecting to be inundated with last-minute assessments, and that could put a strain on IT systems in ways that I’m sure has the committee up at night tossing and turning.

Look, I’m not about to come out and defend HMRC for its ability – or lack thereof – to get things done or to negotiate contracts with IT professionals. I’m not going to jump all over the committee either, but I am going to say that for a government entity that’s responsible for collecting and keeping track of billions of pounds in tax revenue it seems like having a strong enough IT backbone to keep records sorted and make sure data is flowing in the right directions is something of a bloody priority, don’t you think?

Honestly the taxman isn’t helping itself out any, as it’s already suffering from a poor reputation either from real or perceived slights. Taxpayers losing confidence in HMRC is probably the last thing that needs to happen, especially if the tax authority is trying to encourage more people to pay what they owe and not less.

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HMRC extends Contractor Loan Settlement Opportunity to June

In its infinite wisdom, Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs has decided to extend its Contractor Loan Settlement Opportunity to 30 June of next year.

CLSO, which was set up by the taxman in order to help approximately 16,000 Brits suspected of using offshore schemes for tax avoidance a window of opportunity to come clean and pay what they owed before having to become liable for tax penalties and charges, was set to shutter on 9 January of 2015. Many users of this offshore scheme were understood to have been IT contractors – hence the name of the programme – and whilst most people are used to HMRC being rather heavy-handed and intractable when it comes to its deadlines, the sudden six month extension is likely to be a very pleasant surprise for anyone who hasn’t gotten around to paying off their tax debts quite yet.

The tax authority, for its part, says that there are “exceptional reasons” behind the extension, remarking that there will be no other ones like it in the future. Nothing else has changed, HMRC says – anyone subject to the programme is still liable for every last penny, and with the taxman stating that the average amount owed is around £11,000 or so, the extra time to scrape up the funds and send them off to the Treasury is likely to be greeted with relief and thanks by anyone who ended up in hot water for tax avoidance to begin with.

CLSO turns out to have been a highly popular initiative, according to HMRC in a four-part update to the programme. However, the tax authority did admit that the initiative needed a bit of clarification and that some users raised some valid concerns. All in all, the changes are all designed to help users of the scheme settle up accounts and avoid being dragged in front of an HMRC tribunal – something that I’m sure none of us want to have to deal with. I certainly wouldn’t want to have to face the music if I had been caught red-handed using one of these offshore schemes, though I’ll be damned before I’d ever use one myself.

Honestly I think it’s a solid programme and I’d urge anyone and everyone who’s ended up in hot water to get out through using it. Sometimes it’s better to just take your lumps and get on with life, you know?

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Don’t fear off-payroll rules if you contract with NHS

You need not fear off-payroll rules if you’re contracted with the NHS to provide IT solutions, according to one recruitment firm managing director.

New off-payroll rules set to discourage tax avoidance by people working particularly long-term or lucrative contracts in the public sector are set to go into effect next month and have generated a shedload of anxiety in the contractor market recently. However, max20’s Dan Tomlinson says that you need not being forced out of a contract – or worse yet, shore-horned into the PAYE system if you’re an IT contractor undertaking work for the NHS.

There’s no chance of any IT contractors working for the NHS will fall victim to the taxman’s new off-payroll rules, Mr Tomlinson pointed out in a recent interview. He also said that with the NHS demonstrating a dire need for experienced and skilled IT workers, there will be no dearth of positions from at least this facet of the public sector.

The highest demand right now is for the kinds of contracting operations that are so far outside IR35 to be completely safe from any of these new off-payroll rules, the managing director added. The NHS needs senior-level freelancers that run their own software development firms more than anything else in order to keep up with a demand for its burgeoning information technology demands, he also said.

The NHS also has several other things going for it that makes it conducive to interim contract working. One of the biggest things, said Mr Tomlinson, is that there’s no longer any need to have experience in working for the NHS previously, while other perks include rates that have become more and more realistic as time goes on and development projects that are pushing the cutting edge of current technologies.

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Public sector contractors brace for more tax scrutiny

If you’re a contractor working in the public sector, you’d better prepare yourself for more tax scrutiny to come your way in the future, if one contracting trade association group’s warnings are to be taken seriously.

The PGC says that it has gotten its hands on some leaked taxation documents stating that the current working system in the government is going to go through a rather significant shake-up in the coming months. One of the most significant changes, according to the trade association, is that any contractor that is on a longer term agreement or receiving a higher daily rate will soon have only two choices when it comes to their employment: have their contracts ended, or operate within IR35.

PCG’s managing director, John Brazier, says that there are certain harsh realities that will accompany such a move, as a massive skills and knowledge gap in the IT contractor sector for public contracts, due to how much project work exists for the public sector. The end result could be a destabilisation for many government departments, Mr Brazier added, as the government effectively shoots itself in the foot by eliminating the public sector’s access to experienced and skilled freelancers.

One of the biggest benefits that freelancers and contractors bring to the employment field is through their flexibility; employers can make use of contractors on a per-project basis, paying only what they need to get certain work done instead of having to be yoked with a permanent worker. However, making it harder for contractors to work on pubic sector projects is essentially throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and will most likely complicate the UK’s economic recovery even further.

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How to successfully complete an IT contract – then rinse and repeat.

I’m coming rapidly to the end of my current engagement and have been reflecting on what I’ve been doing. Not out of any great sense of sadness or nostalgia but because I have to hand over to the permanent guys that I’ve been covering for while they were off doing more interesting stuff. Which means doing the Great Chinese Examination and writing down everything you know for them to pick up and carry on doing.

Then, while pondering how best to describe one less than dynamic project without embarrassing the Project Manager too badly, it occurred to me that my job is actually pretty varied in one way and very consistent in the other.

Don’t believe all that rubbish about monster pay packets, most contractors actually do it for the chance to work in different places with different people learning different things.

Although, to be fair, the monster pay packets might also have a certain appeal…

Anyway, my usual contract is to parachute into an existing team where I’m either filling the seat of someone off doing something else for a while, or adding some resource because the guys haven’t got enough hours in the day. It’s a case of turn up, get introduced, sometimes in detail, sometime very sketchily (although with my appalling memory for names and faces, it matters not a lot which!), work out the key players, the quick way to get to work and the coffee supply and get on with it. With a bit of luck I’ll also be asked to make things work better or even work completely differently, which is the bit I quite enjoy. But the real challenge is that steep learning curve where you have to fit into the team like you’ve been there for years. Then the real guy comes back and you’re out of a job again. Rinse and repeat.

So as I say, interesting work in a boring sequence. And I wouldn’t have it any other way, to be honest.

But there’s another thing I keep seeing, everywhere I go. Basically I work in and around Service Management, which is the bit that turns the technical wizardry of the data centre into the mundane consistency of the user’s desktop environment. All that stuff that ITIL used to be about before V3 came along and made it incomprehensible and expensive in equal measure. But ITIL has been around for a long time now, and certainly predates the working lives of a lot of the people I work with. So why does nobody know how to use it properly?

Everywhere I go, they have a Service Desk. The usually have a Change Manager. They may have got really enthusiastic and have a CMDB that works. Usually they’re just an asset register with aspirations; the test is to see if it can tell you who will shout if you turn something off. Which is all well and good, if you like your cappuccinos without milk.

Where is the Service Catalogue? I’ve yet to work somewhere that has even a pale shadow of the ITIL ideal. It’s not like it’s all that complex either, the broad brush approach will work perfectly well – email , internet, Office, Security, User Management, assorted approved applications, that kind of thing. Not the tin and wires, that’s for the propeller heads in the back office. The Service Catalogue is the glue that holds it all together, the steamed milk that makes your breakfast coffee sing and stops the cinnamon sinking. Without the Service Catalogue, how do you know what you’re providing, what your Change Manager is changing and what your Service Desk is servicing?

Perhaps I should get out more, but one day in my serial existence I’ll come across a site that uses the basic ITIL structure properly. And that would be really very interesting.

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

© 2012 All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

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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<

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How to bid for freelance work in a fog of ignorance

Have you ever thought that contracting is about the only job where you have no idea how much you should be charging? You go for a job, you talk to the agency advertising it (assuming you can find them at their desk…) and you have a two minute chat about the work required. With a bit of luck (and some smart questions) you will know where the job is based, roughly what’s to be done and what the agency believes the key issues are (there’s always issues in my experience!).

What you don’t yet know, usually, is who the client is and quite probably not even what their line of work is. That’s because if the agent decides you’re a waste of his time, he doesn’t want you calling the client and offering your services directly, so he’s only protecting his own business.

But on the basis of this rather minimal information you will be asked how much you would charge. And that’s where it gets difficult.

Personally I have a clear idea in my head about what I would like to charge. The answer, oddly enough, is not “as much as I can” although that is certainly one of the parameters. I know what I need to live and I know my routine overheads, so I can work out how much I need to earn a year to pay the mortgage and keep the dog in biscuits. Working on the assumption I’ll probably work seven months a year (OK, that’s a bit low, but I’m getting lazy in my old age) I can set a base day rate.

To that you add the cost of getting to the job. Daily commutes are either so many miles at 40 pence per mile or the rail fares. Staying away I usually cost at £100 a day (slightly more in the Smoke, but that’s usually commutable). Either way I add that amount to the day rate; while I do an all inclusive deal for my labour, I also aim to recover all my costs.

Finally I add a fiddle factor, based on the seniority of the role (it costs more if I’m managing people, for instance) and something I call the risk factor, which reflects how hard the job is going to be and how much damage I could do if I get it wrong. Then add 15%: after all, I aim to make a profit at the end of the day.

So then I have a base price. Sadly, so does the agent, driven by what the client tells him the budget is and his own margins. If we’re really lucky the two will coincide. If we’re even luckier, the agent will be willing to beat the client up to what I want, since he gets more money that way as well. These days, though, that’s increasingly unlikely.

One problem is that the clients have a very clear idea of what they want to pay, Unless you are a serious specialist, there is very little chance you can name your own price any more. Most clients have a rate card of their own which they use to cost their own internal budgets: it’s a brave manager who will deliberately put in an overspend on his own budget. Then there are the companies who have no idea, who set the budget by dividing the permie’s salary by 260, who set the rate stupidly high – councils are good at that one – or even do a kind of Dutch auction, asking for three CVs and saying they’ll take the cheapest (oddly enough they are also the ones wondering why their delivery record on projects is so poor…).

Of course it would be good if we could delay the rate discussion until the interview stage, but that would expose the agent’s margin which would never be allowed. Or we could go in with a per diem and a percentage share of any resultant savings or client income growth depending on the role. (Someone I trained did exactly that: offered to do a job for 10% of the first year’s savings then proceeded to save his client £2.4 million…)

But at the end of the day you are having to bid for work in a fog of ignorance. This probably explains why my rate now is usually within 10% of what I was on 15 years ago when I started out.

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<

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The job curiosity shop

August is traditionally a time when the Job Market goes into limbo. People are away on holiday, trade generally winds down, France stops completely and people are generally more relaxed than usual. Thing is, though, that this August is doing some strange things.

For a start, Public Sector work seems to have vanished entirely. This is not exactly unexpected, of course, given the Coalition’s policies in this area, but it’s been so abrupt you have to ask yourself if the powers that be have really thought it through. For example I was up for one process rationalisation role recently that, with a following wind, would have probably resulted in a cost saving considerably larger than what I would have charged them for doing it. The role got canned, sadly, since they can’t recruit anyone – even non-permanent people like me – on account of HMG’s directives. This means that they will actually now be spending money over the next six months that they don’t need to spend because they are not allowed to spend any money. Not my understanding of economics, but there you go.

However look at the wonderful world of Finance and the stream of new roles is never ending. This doesn’t help me find work, of course, because these roles will naturally only ever go to people who already work in the Finance industries, even roles in my arena, Service Management, which is largely unconcerned with the nature of the industry. In effect they are operating the same apartheid as all those Government hirers with their slavish adherence to the wrong set of rules for Security Clearance.

Then you see roles that are mostly managerial in nature, running portfolios of projects for instance, that still demand a list of technical skills. OK, you need to understand what your techies are doing, and you also need to be able to explain it to the wider business. So while I can’t configure a high availability Storage Area Network, I do know what one is and how it works. Clearly, that’s not enough; I have to be able to build it from the ground up. I thought that what was we paid the techies to do though…

And of course the agents don’t help. I didn’t get a call about a role last week because “the rate is too low to interest you”. Sorry? For one thing the job is literally 20 minutes from home; that’s worth quite a few pounds a day all by itself. Plus the rate on offer wasn’t all that awful and it was rather more than I’m earning right now.

Or there’s the other agent that actually put me forward for a fairly senior and challenging piece of work (actually one would I would really relish doing) then goes on holiday for two weeks. OK, people can have holidays, but is it too much to ask that someone else in the office at least knows the role exists? So much for managing the client’s expectations then. Or mine, come to that.

So as I say it’s all the usual frustrations and the usual clumsiness of the middle men. This is why I say you can’t really call it a Job Market any more. It’s really is more of a Curiosity Shop.

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So what am I doing wrong?

There’s been mixed reactions to the Coalition’s plans for the promised IR35 review. Mostly people see the announcement in the Budget as a positive step forward, and even those who previously seemed to have found a new enthusiasm for IR35 seem to have gone quiet.

And you have to admit that Mark Prisk’s reported comments, indicating that IR35 as it stands is doomed, was welcome news, if they were accurately reported.

Of course there are still those who demand immediate action and the instant repeal of IR35 and all its manifest evils, but I fear they are to be disappointed. Let’s face it, we are talking about Government decision making here. Despite the obvious urgency and energy of our new masters, they work at a speed that makes geological time seem positively reckless.

The other thing that keeps coming up everywhere is “What do we replace it with?” I know I wrote about son of IR35 recently, but this constant drip feed of suggestions for how it can be re-worked is beginning to irritate.

For one thing, nobody has yet persuaded me that it needs to be replaced. In my case, I own a Limited Company through which I provide various services to a range of clients (including this blog, for example). The company has been around for many years, is operated in accordance with all the relevant laws and pays all its required taxes without a murmur (well, not a very loud one, anyway…).

So why is there a clamour to single me out as some kind of anomaly and insist that I have to operate under some differential taxation regime because I don’t aim to become a rival to Accenture? Actually I am a rival to Accenture in many ways, but let’s not go there just yet!

With or without IR35, I would still use my company to sell my services, that’s what it does. So what am I doing wrong that some people demand I become some form of special case?

My hope is that HMG and the Office of Tax Simplification will see sense and cancel IR35 with no thought of replacing it. I admit they may take a longer look at small company taxation in the round, but that should be against all small companies equally. Those who for various reasons only have one or two workers are no different to bigger small companies, if you see what I mean, so why should they need different treatment?

On a different subject, I was talking with my last clients recently, who are in the Public Sector, and asked them how they were planning to cope with the impending cuts in public expenditure. Seems they are actually quite relaxed about them, since they’ve been working a programme of examining expenditure and optimising their budget management for several years now. They are confident that they’ve already made the level of savings expected of them. So you have to ask, if that one organisation can do that so successfully, why can’t all of them…?

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Bad News, Good News?

So where was I…? Back refreshed from two weeks of idleness in the sun, and already looking for the next contract. Don’t seem to have missed anything too serious while I was away.

I managed to get back just in time for the Coalition’s first Budget. I watched it live – oh the joys of being on the bench – and for the first time in 13 years I didn’t have an overwhelming urge to throw something heavy at the TV. What a pleasure it was to listen to someone who sounded like they both knew what was going on and was willing to be honest about it.

Of course, the underlying message isn’t very nice, which is not much of a surprise unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last five years, but you have to say that the overall tone was actually surprisingly positive.

Yes, it’s going to hurt, but we knew that anyway. We’ve had the usual suspects leaping up and down in a fury about a return to Dickensian England and the public sector is up in arms about facing the same pain that private industry has been through already, but all in all I thought it was quite well judged. Let’s just hope that it has the desired result!

With my freelance hat on, it was actually pretty much neutral. I’m not planning on opening a new company and employing people so the National Isurance incentives won’t touch me the slightest, but they will help people who do want to build up their businesses. The eventual VAT rise will hurt of course, but it’s only 25p extra on something costing £10, so personally I can live with that.

The personal tax allowances are nice as well, as is the promised reduction in Corporation Tax rates. As a jobbing freelance contractor – well, when I get a job that is – I’m actually quite relaxed about it all.

The other bit of news tucked away in the Red Book (or as Cameron said to Harman at PMQs this week, in her case the “unread” book) was a clear commitment to look hard at IR35. This was backed up by an interview in the Telegraph, where Mark Prisk emphasised the intention to lose IR35 altogether.

Welcome news indeed, although we won’t break out the champagne until we know exactly what is going to come after it.

Elsewhere in the real world I’ve been plunged back in to the chaos and misery of having to deal with agencies offering work that they don’t understand on behalf of clients they don’t know to contractors they don’t want to talk to and whose CVs they utterly fail to understand. I’ve spoken to five this week and have absolutely zero confidence they know what they’re doing.

Call me an old curmudgeon but in my not inconsiderable experience it’s about one in fifty that does the job they way they tell the clients they do, so I guess I’ve a few more pointless and frustrating phone calls to get through yet. Come the revolution, I know who I’ll be putting against the wall first

Still, let’s be positive, if the reaction to the budget is positive, there may actually be some real work out there.

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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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Give me strength…

I was reading up on the House of commons Finance Committee’s debate on the BN66 case – that’s the one about retrospectively taxing people who thought they had joined a valid scheme and suddenly found they hadn’t – and came across a seriously disturbing comment from one Colin Breed, who is, it turns out, a Liberal Democrat Shadow Minister for the Treasury.

I quote: “I say at the outset that we accept entirely the need for the Government to legislate against tax avoidance”.

Now forgive me for being an optimist, but I thought avoidance was not only an entirely legal activity, but was actively condoned by Parliament, most famously by the then Chancellor when separate taxation for man and wife was introduced. He said, in the House, that every taxpayer is at liberty to arrange their taxation affairs in the most efficient manner.

In other words not paying taxes you don’t owe is entirely legal but not paying taxes you do owe isn’t. How hard is that to understand?

So just what is Mr Breed on about, I ask? Has he been brainwashed by Brown’s continual re-interpretation of reality? Is he genuinely unaware of the difference between avoidance and evasion? How many other supposedly senior MPs demonstrate such woeful ignorance?

Or is he saying that anyone who doesn’t pay the maximum taxes they possibly can is doing something wrong? In which case when will they outlaw ISAs, or pension funds? Or even the basic tax allowance…

More to the point, how can we hope to get some kind of validity in the tax system if the people making the laws – or in Breed’s case, rubber-stamping the laws – do not understand the subject they are nominally in charge of protecting?

This upcoming election looks increasingly like a fiasco in the making. Not only is the majority of the public largely indifferent to who they’re voting for and why, the people we’re electing also look like refugees from Fred Karno’s army. It really doesn’t bode well….

Put it this way. If I get faced with another five years of Gordon telling me it’s all about fairness, I’m leaving.

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Freelancers flex their muscles

I see PCG have launched an advertising campaign in the national press (well, bits of it anyway) promoting the value of the freelance worker to the business community.

Speaking as a freelance I would say that this is a case of stating the bleedin’ obvious, but if you look a little deeper, it may not be.

The problem is that most businesses still see people like me as temporary employees, a bum-on-seat who is there to fill in a role for a while then disappear. Well I hate to disillusion you but I’m not. I’m highly experienced in my field, I’ve worked for a range of companies and I can add real value, which is what you want and rightly expect me to provide, but I am not a “temp” in any sense of the word. I’m a supplier who just happens to sell knowledge instead of photocopiers.

This perception has largely come about from the way most agencies – and certainly the big corporate ones – sell me to their (and my) clients. Invariably I am represented as one of their resources who will work for them under an employee-like contract with a few nods to the IR35 rules. Equally invariably the engagement is managed through the dead hand of HR instead of Procurement, further reinforcing the impression of temp employee. Plus, of course, there isn’t an agency in the country that doesn’t sell my services in handy three months chunks, regardless of how long it will take me actually to do the job in hand (in the current case, around five months, but that doesn’t fit the agency model…)

So well done PCG for raising the issue. And it must have paid off because I saw their Deputy Chairman on the main news yesterday, talking about life as a freelance in the current economic climate.

Meanwhile, interesting times at my client as well. There’s a major new contract being finalised. We thought it was all sorted then at the last minute we get a call from the supplier saying some terms weren’t acceptable and shouldn’t have been offered so can we renegotiate please – like we had a lot of choice. Anyway we have got it back on track again, but I’m sitting in the bar last night with a large glass of Shiraz wondering just when did I sign up to having to make go/no-go decisions on multi-million pound contracts. After all, I’m only a temp…

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