Covid-19: Second national lockdown gets a mixed reaction from UK contractor sector

A second national lockdown being imposed in England this Thursday due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is receiving a very mixed response from the contractor sector.

Supporters say that the four-week shutdown announced by Boris Johnson on Saturday and due to run from November 5th to December 2nd, could be helpful to bolster Track and Trace.

In fact, agency body the REC says that while Mr Johnson’s order is a “big step” with “many challenges,” there is a “need to control the spread of the virus with better [technology.]”

'Firing on all cylinders'

“Controlling the virus is crucial”, agrees the IoD, on behalf of incorporated business bosses.

“[But] when we emerge from these restrictions,…[we] will want to see the Test and Trace system firing on all cylinders,” says the IoD’s director-general Jonathan Geldart.

He added: “This could be a key weapon in the fight against the virus, but it hasn't hit its target yet. The PM’s emphasis on this is welcome, but the results on the ground will matter most.”

'Realistic hope'

In line with the IoD’s comments, Mr Johnson said that the “next few days and weeks” would see a “massive expansion” of covid self-testing kits designed to give results in 10-15 minutes.

This is on top of the “realistic hope” of a vaccine by Spring 2021, the PM said, and it builds on testing trials at hospitals and schools -- institutions which will stay open in this lockdown.

But surgeries and wards will be effectively closed to the ill and infirm who will go without the operations and procedures that they need, warns contractor sector stalwart Simon Dolan.

'Deadly lockdown'

“To every MP…if you vote for the lockdown, know that you are condemning people to death by cancer and heart attacks, [and] old people to loneliness,” the Dolan Accountancy boss said.

Addressing followers of his bid to have lockdown ruled unlawful, Mr Dolan tweeted: “You must email [your local MP] and let them know you will not accept another deadly lockdown.

“Tell them how it affects your life. Make them see just how much pain this will inflict.”

'Greatest mental health test'

Echoing the anguish for individuals from the lockdown requiring people not to leave their house for four weeks other than for a few reasons, such as food shopping, is Mind.

“We are facing the greatest test of our mental health,” the charity’s Paul Farmer said on Saturday, in reaction to the PM’s announcement.

“There is an urgent need for a winter mental health support package now from the government. This must include access to face-to-face and online mental health services.”

'Lockdown shouldn't hurt the average IT contractor'

Yet there is not an urgent need for another lockdown at all, according to a veteran IT contractor, even though he says freelance techies won’t find the return of ‘WfH’ difficult.

“Lockdown itself shouldn’t actually make a great difference to the average IT contractor, the bulk of whom can operate perfectly well remotely,” said Alan Watts, speaking last night.

“But I’m yet to be convinced the total lockdown is necessary…use of masks, social distancing and taking care over hygiene is more than sufficient protection for most. [Those steps] also won’t ruin the economy even further than it has been.”


As to his contractor friends still “in the thick of it”, the former service management consultant said that, like private sector IR35 reform, the shutdown being set to run for just a few weeks could eventually cause them to “despair,” depending on their clients’ reactions.

He explained: “The problem with a short lockdown – if it is one, is the risk of businesses letting contractors go, so the businesses can hang on to their permanent staff without getting hit with loss of revenue, furlough payments and the like.

“And naturally enough ,if contractors are dropped, the lack of work across the market now means they will be out of contract for a long time, not just the duration of the lockdown itself.”

'Loving the extra flexibility, plus there's the camaraderie'

But Bowers Partnership, a staffing firm for some of the City’s financial services outfits believes another lockdown due to covid-19 will have a silver lining for many contractors.

“It might well be a case of ‘here we go again’…[but] I’m yet to speak to a contractor -- or permie for that matter, who isn’t loving ‘WfH,’” says the agency’s founder Natalie Bowers.

“They get more flexibility to deliver results for the clients, while managing to fit in such vitally important family tasks as the school run and putting up that bedroom curtain rail!

She continued: “As for contractors who aren’t working, there’s a strong sense of community. But on-contract or not, most seem to be operating with a sense that we’re all in this together.”

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Written by Simon Moore

Simon writes impartial news and engaging features for the contractor industry, covering, IR35, the loan charge and general tax and legislation.
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