Winners revealed in ContractorUK’s Reader Awards 2018

The elite of the UK’s IT contractor sector including who best to contract for; to contract through, to train with and to let do your taxes is spotlighted in today’s ContractorUK Reader Awards 2018.

Sponsored by professional indemnity insurer Hiscox, the annual awards go to the small, mid-sized and large companies that ContractorUK readers say are at the top of their game in 10 different categories.

The awards have been running since 2006 but this year’s contest, which opened in November and received almost 50% more votes than its predecessor, has a distinctly topical edge.

In fact, Graham Webber of WTT Consulting, which tirelessly advises 2019 Loan Charge contractors, has been voted both Forum Personality of the Year and Forum Adviser of the Year. The dual-win in these categories is an awards’ first.

Perhaps capturing best why Mr Webber has won the titles – and much admiration -- is a contractor who is not even unaffected by April’s clampdown on disguised remuneration.

“I’m not even part of the Loan Charge [group] but have followed [‘webberg’ with] great interest and [he] always seems to be on top of [everything that’s going on with the charge],” the contractor says.

“I kind of want to join [his] Big Group just to support his work on the Forum!”  

'Long way from the finish'

A former tax officer, Mr Webber is elated to win the double-accolade but says he is surprised: “I’d like to thank all those who voted for me and say that despite the much we have achieved, we are a long way from the finish line, so I wasn’t expecting this.”

He also said: “[I’ve] seen first-hand how involvement in a tax avoidance scheme, especially one that participants did not realise was tax avoidance, can ruin the lives of not just the client, but also all those people the client has relationships with.

“I’ve learnt a lot from the ContractorUK Forum and the posters there. [These awards will] just encourage me to keep going and find that elusive answer -- one that is true to all parties and from which we all can walk away, if not happy, then not entirely disappointed.”

Intouch Accounting is another tax specialist which this year is victorious. The Bournemouth-based firm wins Best Contractor Accountant (Small/Medium).

“We’re delighted to have won this award for the third year running,” says the firm’s managing director Christian Faires.

“It means a great deal to us because it’s voted for by Intouch’s clients [but ultimately] the ContractorUK readership [decides, so it’s a] real gauge of how we’re performing.”

'First year of operation'

Industry newcomer Dolan Accountancy, and veteran Danbro, each of which has never won at the awards, are officially voted the 2nd and 3rd ‘best contractor accountant’ respectively.  

“All the team at Dolan Accountancy are thrilled to have been recognised as runner-up in the Best Contractor Accountant Small/Medium category in the ContractorUK Awards 2018,” says Dolan Accountancy’s managing director Simon Dolan.

He added: “We feel this is a great achievement especially in our first year of operation…[during which we have built the firm] around the needs of our contractor clients”.

But it is a business which Mr Dolan founded in 1992 and that he has since left, SJD Accountancy, that has meanwhile triumphed in the category Best Contractor Accountant (Large).

SJD’s chief executive Derek Kelly said yesterday: “To receive the best large accountancy award for the 12th year in succession is a testament to all the hard work our team put into driving high service levels across our client-base.”

'People, processes, systems'

And there is a second win for Mr Kelly, who is also CEO of SJD’s parent company Optionis group, as the group’s Lancashire-run tax advisory for contractors, Nixon Williams, has won a commendation.

It has been narrowly edged into third place in this category (Best Contractor Accountant – Large) by PayStream, which impressively retains the ‘runner-up’ title it has won every year since 2015.

“Delivering outstanding customer service has always been our primary focus,” says PayStream’s managing director Paul Malley.

“To achieve this we’ve learnt that we not only need great processes and systems in place but also, more importantly, great people, who always strive to take the time to listen to what our customers have to say”.

The Manchester-based accounting firm last year provided a stark contrast to outsourcing giant Capita, which dropped two awards just as PayStream refused to relinquish its two.

Return to form

But this year, Capita appears to have returned to form. According to ContractorUK readers, it is now both the 2nd best training firm, and the 2nd best recruiter.

So Capita Resourcing is this year’s second Best Recruitment Agency, beating Aston Carter into third place, and is also the second Best Training Provider (the other award it also lost in 2017).

A Capita spokesman said: “It’s great to receive this recognition from ContractorUK readers for our ongoing commitment to customer experience.

"We strongly believe this is associated with our continuous investment in high quality, technology-enabled services and look forward to building on our success to date.”

But Capita is this year pipped at the post in the recruitment category by Hays IT, which is ContractorUK readers’ preferred agency for the sixth year in a row, and by The Learning People in the training category.

Hays' IT director James Milligan said: “It is a great achievement to win this award for the sixth year running, and we’re thrilled that the readers of ContractorUK continue to recognise the expert advice we offer and the work we provide for IT contractors. 

"We are grateful to everyone who voted for us to win this award and winning this is testament to the hard work and commitment of our UK team. We appreciate your continued support and trust in our ability to provide you with the greatest variety and quality of IT contractor assignments.”

Patrick Aylmer, boss of Brighton-based The Learning People said: "We’re absolutely thrilled to have again been voted Best Training Provider.

"I think a big part of our continued success is the constant desire to deliver our students with the most up-to-date, on trend training, grow our product portfolio to meet the market demand and be thought-leaders for the tech industry. A big ‘thank you’ to everyone that voted for us.”

'Work closely with contractors'

The online jobs specialist for techies, Technojobs.co.uk, is also no stranger to the awards, having hung on to the ‘runner-up’ title every year since securing it in 2012.

It does the same in 2018, making the board for IT jobs at the likes of Accenture and Boeing or the BBC and MoD, the second-best on the internet in the eyes of ContractorUK readers.

Technojobs’ managing director Anthony Sherick said last night: “We work very closely with the contractor market and ContractorUK.  

“We are matching thousands of contracts with active candidates -- so it is really great to be recognised by the readers of ContractorUK.”

Thanks to just a handful of last-minute votes in this category (Best Job Site for contractors), the winner is industry behemoth JobServe, founded by IT contractors almost 25 years ago.

“We are delighted to once again be the recipient of this prestigious award,” says JobServe’s Alan Simmons.

“Being recognised as the best by the very people who are looking and applying for work every day makes the achievement all the more special and important for us. Many thanks to all those who voted.”

Banks still dominate

Unlike JobServe, so unable to keep its top spot in this year’s ContractorUK Reader Awards, is HSBC, as ‘Best Client’ of 2018 goes to Barclays -- the end-user easily voted for the most.

Another bank, RBS, is the now the 2nd-best client to have, seemingly at the expense of Jaguar Land Rover which contractors voted the ‘runner-up’ as best client in 2017.

Britain’s biggest carmaker failed to receive even a single nomination this year, but it does not signal sector-specific change as rival Aston Martin polled highly, albeit shy of the top spots.

Interestingly, those spots are reversable. After a close vote late into last month about whose cloud accounting platform is preferred, last year’s runner-up FreeAgent has now swapped with the 2017 winner Sage.

'Grow and thrive'

It means that FreeAgent can today be crowned ‘Best Accounting Software Provider’ for contractors of 2018, forcing Sage Business Cloud Accounting into second place.  

But Sage’s UK & Ireland managing director Sabby Gill isn’t overly perturbed, saying:

“It’s fantastic to be recognised by ContractorUK Readers as an important technology and business support partner for those that want to grow and thrive.”

Meanwhile FreeAgent’s CEO Ed Molyneux, a former freelancer, spoke of his ‘delight’ at winning.  

“It’s a great honour that recognises [our] entire team and the hard work and results they have delivered over the past year,” he said of the accounting platform accolade.

“Since our inception, we’ve strived to make…the most intuitive and well-loved software for small business owners, contractors and their accountants -- so this award shows that we are firmly on the right track.” 

More reversibility

Another second place that’s been turned into a first place is in the category of Best Financial Service Provider, which 2017’s runner-up Cater Allen has now won in 2018.

The private bank received some stiff competition however from Hiscox, a provider of professional indemnity insurance, which debuts in the awards as the ‘runner-up’ best financial service provider. 

Hiscox say they are thrilled to be recognised in these awards. "In a period when contractors have gone through turbulence because of IR35 reform amongst other things, we are delighted that we can continue to be of support and help protect their interests." the insurer said. "We will continue to invest in the contractor community with products that adapt as their needs change."

Votes from ContractorUK readers for Best Umbrella Company, on the other hand, tended not to favour such newcomers to the awards, as only the established players competed down to the wire.

In fact, PayStream has maintained its 1st place ranking to emerge as the brolly of choice, Parasol improved upon its third place to take second, and Danbro won a commendation.  

“We are delighted to have won the Best Umbrella Company of the year for an unprecedented third year in succession,” said PayStream’s Paul Malley.

Also sounding chuffed is Optionis’ Derek Kelly, who said: “It’s great to see our leading umbrella brand Parasol recognised in the ContractorUK Reader awards.”

'Positive difference amid uncertainty'

Asked about the awards, which are given in a total of 12 categories, a ContractorUK spokesman said: “Perhaps more than ever, our readers need to know factually what’s what, and who’s good at what, as the uncertainty of both Brexit and IR35 reform looms large.”

“This year, the awards had a topical edge but they still provide contractors with the opportunity to acknowledge those who have helped them contract in 2018, small players and big players alike who have made a positive difference to their professional lives.”

However, if you prefer ‘matters of absolutely no relevance to IT contracting at all’ as freelance web app developer ‘NickFitz’  might put it, there is his ‘Monday Links’, which has been voted ContractorUK ’s Most Entertaining Forum Thread of 2018.

His latest eclectic ‘Monday Links’, featuring ‘Thoughts of a Spiderweb,’ photos from late Soviet-Russia and the astonishing myths and facts of the banana, no less, is available here.

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