Contracting Awards 2019: winners in full
Following the glitziest contracting awards ceremony last night that contractor industry veterans say they have ever attended, ContractorUK is delighted to announce the winners of the inaugural Contracting Awards 2019.
But first, and before revealing the ‘best of the best’ contractor service providers in 17 categories, thanks go to an incredible list of the London event’s sponsors, who mirror the sheer diversity of UK contracting.
They are umbrella company Select Umbrella; cloud accountant FreeAgent, PAYE & accounting firm Orange Genie, mortgage experts Freelancer Financials, agency In-House Recruitment, Blockchain specialist APPII, and niche jobs site Technojobs.co.uk.
These seven businesses were among the 200 awards’ attendees who yesterday evening packed out the prestigious Grand Ballroom in the Montcalm Hotel, near Park Lane by Hyde Park, to enjoy three courses of fine dining, accompanied by wine and sparkling drinks.
On top of applauding the wit and irreverence of compere Josh Widdicombe (Live at the Apollo, Mock the Week), all 200 put their hands together for the following winners, decided by awards’ judges Seb Maley of Qdos, Julia Kermode of the Freelancer & Contractor Services Association, Andy Hallett of SThree and Anthony Sherick of ContractorUK.
Best Contractor Innovation
What is it? An online business bank account specifically for contractors. It does contractors’ accounting too.
What’s the thinking? Making running a small business simple and enjoyable. And hopefully much less hassle because in effect, it’s a business ‘bank account that does your books.’
Did you know? There’s clearly strength in numbers for this bank account provider. On Trustpilot, Countingup’s rating is excellent at 9.1/10, their App Store rating is 4.5/5 and their Play Store rating is 4.2/5.
Judges said: “This is new innovation in the market – tech-focussed but their compliance is inline as well. Really tailored for modern flexible working.”
Best Contractor Innovation
Highly commended: Self-Assessment and Tax Return Software GoSimpleTax
Best Umbrella Company (under 1,499 clients)
Winner: Contractor Umbrella
What is it? A very well-established umbrella company based in Tring, near Aylesbury.
What’s the thinking? The firm’s focus is on being ‘hassle-free’ for contractors, but ‘CU’ is just as well-known for its wealth of industry experience – it’s been operating since 2002. It’s a stickler for compliance too. And users suggest it’s doing more than a few things right – over 99% of them would recommend CU to others.
Did you know? Contractor Umbrella is now part of Dolan Accountancy.
Judges said: “This entry showed excellent customer service and added value for their customers.”
Best Umbrella Company (over 1,500 clients)
Winner: Walker Smith Contracting
What is it? An umbrella company solution, among other offerings to contractors, with hubs in both Manchester and London.
What’s the thinking? To make a positive difference to their clients’ lives. That’s not only their thinking, it’s also the firm’s “mission,” as they like to call it.
Did you know? WSC has four principles its personnel insist on adhering to: Customer service; Compliance, Value-add and Tailoring.
Judges said: “This entry showed an organisation that is passionate about compliance and embracing their ambition to be the best. It really stood out as adding value through the contractor journey.”
Best Contractor Recruitment Agency – IT sector
Winner: Trust in Soda
What is it? A massively contractor-focussed recruitment agency in London’s Chancery Lane.
What’s the thinking? As it says on the tin (partly!), the agency’s emphasis is on trust. That also means attention to detail and finding the right fit between contractor and contract. Indeed, 90% of its database is contact resource.
Did you know? ‘SODA’ (the other bit of the tin – and what their users tend to abbreviate their name to) is not what you grab to drink if you’re in the US! It actually stands for ‘Society of Digital Addicts.’ So it’s the likes of Design, Product, Cloud and Development opportunities matched up, pretty damn precisely, to Pan-European candidates.
Judges said: “We really liked the values underpinning what they do. The ethos of what a modern recruitment company looks like.”
Best Contractor Recruitment Agency -- Engineering sector
What is it? A long-serving staffing specialist with hubs in 10 different locations, ranging from Barnsley to Cairo, Egypt.
What’s the thinking? Long-term partnerships for lucrative short-term opportunities in oil, gas, construction, logistics, nuclear and other highly regulated sectors.
Did you know? NRL’s Top 10 client list have partnered with them for an average of 14.5 years!
Judges said: “A clear winner – they really stand out as a ‘poster boy’ for the future of agencies.”
Best Contractor Recruitment Agency – Other
Winner: The Curve Group
What is it? An HR-recruitment power house with a big edge in financial services.
What’s the thinking? Fairness, Transparency and Openness are the top three tenets of this very people-focussed staffing firm. An excellent reputation too, dating back to 2004.
Did you know? The firm submitted a ‘problem-solving’ case study to the judges showing just how well its personnel overcome obstacles.
It also counts the A-list of the financial world among its clientele – ranging from Tier 1 Banks and the challenger banks, to many a contractor client – HSBC, RBS, Nationwide, TSB and Co-op Bank, among others.
Judges said: “An impressive, strong, fast-moving entrant -- clients clearly feel in safe hands with them.”
Best Contractor Recruitment Agency - IT
Highly commended: IT sector recruitment company Curo Talent
Best International Contractor Provider
Winner: 6CATS International
What is it? A London-run supplier of contractor, tax and compliance services for temporary engagements overseas.
What’s the thinking? Serving both recruiters and contractors alike, the breadth of the 6CATS network seems to know no bounds. It has solutions in more than 80 countries in fact. On the ground, the firm has put 30,000 contractors to work in the last decade alone.
Did you know? The firm’s name is often a source of puzzlement. It’s because 6CATS came about from a management buyout and stems from the six members of the management team. The ‘CATs’ bit? It stands for ‘Compliance Advice and Tax Solutions.’
The firm often features on ContractorUK’s frontpage, providing guidance on how contractors can get the most from overseas contracting stints, whether in Europe, the Middle East, Africa or further afield.
Judges said: “They provided a very strong entry, showing how they are the go-to solution.”
Best Outsourced Contractor Organisation
What is it? A Wigan-based consultancy-minded outsourcer, big on really tailoring workforce and supplier solutions, by getting to know what engagers actually need.
What’s the thinking? Taking the best bits of the RPO, managed vendor solutions and traditional recruitment models, Linx is a hybrid to address what contractors’ clients really want from a workforce. Value-Add, Efficiency and Engagement – with lots of tech to boot – feature strongly in its ethos and modus operandi.
Did you know? For its clients, the firm is getting to grips with the complex changes to IR35 in the private sector from April 2020, offering an online learning facility and ‘on the ground’ assessment of workers’ status.
Judges said: “Linx delivered complex benefits which were demonstrated successfully in the entry.”
Best Contractor Mortgages Provider/Broker
Winner: CMME Mortgages and Protection
What is it? A mortgage broker specialising in home loans for limited company contractors and the self-employed.
What’s the thinking? Helping the many independent professionals turned down by the high street, when it comes to getting a mortgage, by using a multiple of their annualised contract rate. It’s known to have a knack for specialised, complex cases -- and a knack for converting them. Some 93% of mortgage applicants via CMME are successful.
Did you know? CMME stands for Contractor Mortgages Made Easy. The traditionally-challenging mortgage process is made even easier for contractors, thanks to each client getting their own dedicated adviser – available from the initial enquiry stage right up to final completion.
Judges said: “They really demonstrated their commitment to the contracting market, a clear winner.”
Best Banking Provider
What is it? A banking service developed solely for small business owners. It even has their busy solo work schedules in mind, as it reckons an account can be opened in just a few minutes!
What’s the thinking? Business banking can too often be an afterthought by the high street banks, let alone ‘small’ business banking. So Tide have tweaked every feature for the small company owner. There’s lots of human follow-up to with their “members” – freelancers and contractors predominately.
Did you know? There’s a 200-strong technical team behind your account and the infrastructure at Tide. Partly why, perhaps, the online-only bank has already conquered an impressive 1.5% of the banking SME market.
Judges said: “Truly leading the pack in excellent customer service.”
Best Legal, Compliance or Tax Adviser
Winner: WTT Consulting
What is it? A contractor-focussed HMRC dispute specialist and 2019 Loan Charge advisory, offering tax, legal and financial expertise. Plus bags of integrity.
What’s the thinking? Clear, unbiased, honest, insightful and timely advice is what it’s largely about at WTT. The firm’s no-nonsense approach is extended to HMRC too, meaning it isn’t afraid of being vocal on behalf of taxpayers. Attention to the detail of an argument and getting the ‘practical’ into its guidance or tips are among the advisory’s strengths.
Did you know? Often quoted alongside the ‘Big Four,’ the firm’s tax director Graham Webber was awarded, uniquely, best forum adviser by ContractorUK and best ContractorUK forum personality in 2018. Of the latter award, the tax specialist has said he was delighted to receive it, as it was judged by contractors themselves.
Judges said: “An impressive entry, setting the highest standards for compliance and legal performance.”
Best Contractor Job Site
What is it? A job behemoth offering opportunities since the millennium; boasting a 14million-strong CV database, and contract opportunities running into the tens of thousands. Every month!
What’s the thinking? User-centred interfaces and search wizards for applying to jobs, seamlessly filtered by company, location or skill.
Did you know? More than 2.9 million job-hunters are currently using their site to look for contract work. Site users can also get involved with a new app letting recruiters specify when a CV isn’t needed for a role. The site advertises over 25,000 contracts a month.
Judges said: “This entry stands out from the competition and demonstrates a high standard of user experience.”
Best Accounting or Payroll Software
What is it? A user-friendly online accounting platform, with lots of bells and whistles for contractors, like invoicing, bank data, expenses and mobile functionality.
What’s the thinking? A real commitment to make contracting or any other micro-business operation easier to administer, manage, account for and transact with.
Did you know? The firm is serious at looking at new ways to hone their service. That’s why they’ve become the first accounting software provider to offer a new kind of ‘smart analytical’ functionality. It’s called Insights, and analyses customers’ financial data to deliver useful information on their business performance -- such as top-performing clients, potential issues with cashflow and invoices potentially at risk of late payment.
Judges said: “This standout entry provides clear product benefits for the software and scored highly for innovation.”
Best Contractor Insurance Provider or Broker
Winner: Hiscox Insurance
What is it? A London-listed insurance giant, specialising in lots of different types of insurance for temporary and commercial contracts.
What’s the thinking? A real drive for customer satisfaction pervades many of the insurer’s activities and products, usually resulting in hassle-free, quick cover for customers, who the insurer knows want flexibility.
Did you know? Rather than adding on widgets and wonders, there’s been a lot of removals on Hiscox products. Removed joining fees, removed mid-term adjustment fees and removal of cancellation fees for example. Oh, and it also has no less than 13 different Professional Indemnity wordings to cater for specific sector needs!
Judges said: “They offer the best service to contractors through exceptional innovations, excellent customer service, value for money and clear claim policies.”
Best Contractor Accountant (Under 1,000 clients)
Winner: Dolan Accountancy
What is it? The brainchild of contractor industry veteran and entrepreneur-investor Simon Dolan. He’s re-entered the market with Dolan Accountancy, a full scale accountancy service for contractors.
What’s the thinking? In short, shun the approach of ‘it’s best to stick to what you know,’ in favour of ‘look at new ways to make clients’ lives easier.’
Plus, there’s lots of ambition. In fact, because the founder has led a contractor accounting outfit before, he now wants to build nothing short of ‘THE’ best accountancy firm for contractors.
Meanwhile, ContractorUK Forum posts suggest a responsiveness and proactive approach to contractor tax developments by the firm’s accountants.
Did you know? Due to the April 2017 reforms to IR35 in the public sector, and the planned April 2020 reforms to the rule, clients are offered the flexibility to switch seamlessly between umbrella employment and limited company/PSC, if they feel that their contract and working practices warrant it.
Judges said: “Proven success, a testament to underlying great service in a short space of time. This is an impressive story and speed to scale.”
Best Contractor Accountant (Under 1,000 clients)
Highly commended: Professional and Independent Contractor Accountancy Firm PaperRocket Accounting.
Best Contractor Accountant (1,000 – 2,499 clients)
Winner: Orange Genie Accountancy
What is it? An FCSA-approved tax and accounting specialist offering services to both limited company contractors, and a PAYE solution to umbrella contractors.
What’s the thinking? Definitely ‘less is more.’ In particular, they keep their client-to-staff ratio deliberately low, to give their personnel the space and time to develop deep insights into contractor clients’ needs and aspirations. The other ethos the OG team live by is ‘going the extra mile.’ And they mean it quite literally, as their accountants will also travel anywhere in the UK to meet their clients face-to-face!
Did you know? Lots of opinion, guidance and downright helpful advice for contractors is incoming from the firm on a regular basis, to ContractorUK’s frontpage. More than that though, Orange Genie directors have been on stand-by for at least the last two Budgets in a row, assessing and analysing the chancellor’s announcements while the ink on them is still drying, in a series of rapid response webinars and Q&As.
Judges said: “The breadth of service is articulated well. They are committed to driving improvements in compliance and best practice throughout the industry, while offering practical add-ons and perks to their customers.”
Best Contractor Accountant (Over 2,500 clients)
What is it? The only contractor tax and umbrella services provider to be run by qualified accountants and lawyers. The firm is FCSA-approved.
What’s the thinking? The Manchester-based firm’s ‘My PSC’ service allows contractors to cut down on the amount of work involved in running their own business by assisting with all administrative and accounting tasks required. The idea is that contractors are then free to concentrate solely on running their business, and securing lucrative gigs!
Did you know? As PayStream staff all specialise in working with contractors, they can provide advice on issues such as IR35 compliance, as well as completing tax returns, VAT returns and all the statutory documentation required by HMRC and Companies House.
Judges said: “This entry really stood out showing added innovation, professionalism and very good compliance.”
A word from the Head Judge…
Anthony Sherick, director of the 2019 Contracting Awards partner Contractoruk.com, who led the judging panel, said: “The awards evening was a fantastic opportunity to represent the very best of the contracting industry. The standard of the finalists was truly outstanding.
“So despite the challenges facing our sector, it was reassuring and refreshing to see so many people within the industry focussed on strong customer service, compliance and professionalism.
“Congratulations to all the winners and all the finalists. They should be extremely proud of their achievements and for contributing to such a successful evening.”