2016 was a year that certainly had its fair share of headlines; a mass of iconic Celebrity Deaths, sporting underdogs Leicester City winning the English Football league, Brexit, and controversial figure Donald Trump elected as President of the United States of America.
Contractors in professional fields such as IT, Finance and Law went through this year seemingly without courting much attention and going about their professional lives as normal. 2017 has been a different year for contractors, with there being a balance of positive and negative things happening to the industry – although these did themselves generate a great deal of debate over their impact being good or bad. Here’s what’s dominated 2017 for contractors so far.
Brexit has been a mixed bag so far for contractors. In the field of Finance and Tech particularly, there was an initial boom in contractor hire. This is because Brexit represented change and change means companies have to adapt and cope with these changes, especially when companies don’t know a great deal about this change and what the long term affects will be. Much like how companies hired extra help to cope with the Millennium Bug, companies have done the same with Brexit. With it also offering no long term answers, this has created uncertainty in the job market and companies have opted to be cautious and be conservative with their hires and opted to hire more contractors rather than full-time workers.
However, on the other side of the coin, will Brexit make it more difficult for UK contractors to expand their horizons into European markets? With it reported today that free movement between the UK and EU will end in March 2019, employers are wanting further clarification of what this will mean for them when hiring talent, with Home Secretary Amber Rudd reassuring businesses there will be no “cliff edge” on the topic of immigration. With Tech companies in particular benefiting from the tech talent that is European based, could any immigration plans affect the demand for talent in this sector and result in these demands not being met. Could this put pressure on the Government to try and find ways of encouraging more of this talent to come through via further training to cope with the potential shortfall.
A lot of these questions remain unanswered and may only become clearer by March 2019,
A Government for or against contractors?
As well as Brexit, and the recent coalition government that was a result of this year’s general election, another headline that dominated was the release of the UK budget in early March. Despite being a fairly straight forward budget, the one point that drew most attention was the 1% increase in national insurance contributions for the self-employed, which only a week later was withdrawn from the budget after receiving negative attention and criticism. This move by the Government left many of the self-employed population feeling uncertain of their place in the work world. With it reported that self-employed numbers in the UK would account for 50% of the UK working population by 2020, was this as an early indicator that the government wanted to reduce the self-employed population’s influence and unique tax status. However, with the government going back on this decision, was this a realisation that the self-employed working population are playing a vital part in the UK economy and any government should aim to encourage these numbers.
Added to this, in the run up to the general election, leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn’s alleged ambition to curb the influence of Umbrella Companies was another reason for the self-employed not to feel loved. Some viewed his manifesto plans as a means to completely outlaw them, whereas some saw it more as a means to weed out bogus umbrella companies that were abusing the tax status that a self-employed person enjoys. Again, this added further worry to an already uncertain self-employed working population.
Who are you really?
Two big pieces of news in the contracting world were of course the changes to IR35 in the public sector, and the more recent Taylor Report.
With IR35 decisions and assessments now handed over to employers rather than contractors within the public sector, a number of negative outcomes came out of this decision, the biggest being the entire NHS placed inside the IR35. Unfair it appeared to many, however the decision to hand this responsibility over to employers has led a number of public services to take this blanket approach resulting in a lot of grief from the public sector. The repercussions of this could be disastrous with public workers leaving the sector and moving to private and thus impacting the state of public services
In line with the growing influence of the gig economy, the Taylor Report has been produced as an insight into modern employment in the UK. The report was also produced as providing a protective measure for flexible workers contracting themselves to big companies like Uber and Deliveroo, ensuring their rights as workers are not exploited. The report now recognises these workers as dependant contractors which has raised alarm bells within the contracting industry. This categorisation of these types of workers has made contractors in professional sectors such as IT and Finance, cautious over fear they could be dragged into this category as well.