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Conference season is underway: What’s on the agenda for self-employment?

David Jackson | 17th September 2013

The political conference season is now underway, and I’m keen to see if self-employment – real or false – is discussed. With the Lib-Dems, Labour and Tories still to take the stage, we’ve only seen the TUC so far, but I wanted to comment on what I understand so far. I wasn’t at all surprised to observe our friends at construction union UCATT submit an amendment to the TUC agenda calling for the abolition of the Construction Industry Scheme and all forms of false self-employment.

Having said that, I can’t see any benefit in scrapping CIS, and I’m sure HMRC realise their ability to collect tax on self-employed earnings on a month-by-month basis is of great value to them.

In fact, our accountants calculate this value is in the region of £1billion at any point in the last year.

And while a government could scrap the scheme at any time, what would they replace it with? I wonder what UCATT would advocate: perhaps something more punitive, with fewer people in it by choice, and at a cost to the economy of stifled entrepreneurship?

And what of the alleged falsely self-employed?

UCATT repeatedly refer to 400,000 people being in this category. But where’s their proof? Surely no-one can rely on the mud-slinging guesswork of the 2008 Harvey Report (and certainly not the Treasury official I met recently).

Maybe UCATT’s estimated number simply has a typo. It seems feasible to me that perhaps 40,000 who could be falsely self employed are shoehorned into disreputable and unlawful payroll companies. We’ve seen and acted on this fact for ourselves, and I’m pleased to report we were recently able to put one bogus payroll company out of business.

Looking ahead, I don’t know if the Lib-Dems or the Conservatives plan to discuss freelancers but I know the Labour Party will throw the topic under the spotlight:

  • There’s a fringe event from PCG, the professional voice of freelancing.
  • Cranfield University’s Professor Andrew Burke will present his views – including research on the vital contribution made to the UK economy by freelance builders – at a Labour Finance and Industry Group.
  • Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna’s office is chewing over the merits of a Freelancers Charter

How all this deliberation fits with the investigation headed by Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Rachel Reeves’ into false self-employment in construction remains to be seen.

As ever, I’ll be watching…

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