‘Ridiculous’ Future of Work review slammed as a case of here we go again

The government is getting a lukewarm and fatigued response to its new, seemingly out-the-blue ‘Future of Work’ Review.

But perhaps surprisingly, the lacklustre reaction is not because the government’s wording at the review’s launch seems to refer to IR35 reform – in exactly the way that HMRC tends to.

The review blurb, penned by No 10 Dowing Street states: “Thanks to government action, there are now more employees on the payroll than ever before.”

The NAO has cautioned against crediting the off-payroll rules for swelling payrolls, saying it is “difficult to identify” how many of the 50,000 former PSC workers who joined public sector employers in the two years after April 2017 did so due to then-introduced IR35 reform.

'Absolutely ridiculous'

Yet it is status experts tasked with IR35 reviews for contractors or clients who are exasperated at what they deride as the umpteenth review into the labour market.

The founder of ReLegal Consulting, Rebecca Seeley Harris, is one of them.

“This seems absolutely ridiculous, considering they haven't responded to most of the previous reviews,” the tax lawyer said of the government and its Future of Work review, to be led by Tory MP Matt Warman.

She added: “Most of the Taylor Review recommendations have yet to be implemented; the government have yet to respond to the Employment Status consultation from 2018, and there was no Employment Bill in the Queen's Speech this year”.

'Less talk more action'

Chris Mattingly of WTT Consulting agrees that to launch another similar probe is indeed “ridiculous” – a condemnation further backed in a thread yesterday by Julia Kermode, founder of independent work champion IWORK.

An IR35 adviser, WTT’s Mr Mattingly believes the “trouble” for the government is that the "landscape" of work is “shifting far quicker than our elected government” can respond to it.

Given the many reviews with ignored or unimplemented ‘recommendations’ (and Mr Warman’s brief is, ominously, to make recommendations with a “narrow focus on a few selected areas of policy”), the IR35 adviser says what’s needed is simple -- “less talk, more action.”

'So many reviews already'

“We have had so many reviews, calls for evidence, and enquiries that most firms need to employ someone full-time just to respond to them,” reinforces IR35 expert Kate Cottrell, sounding equally ‘reviewed-out.’

Co-founder of Bauer & Cottrell, she added: “So this Future of Work review is ridiculous. But it may account for the silence in the Queen's Speech regarding no Employment Bill.”

Messaging each other on LinkedIn, Seeley Harris told Cottrell that her review-fatigue is so acute that, as a professional adviser, she’s “not sure it’s worth my time anymore” to respond to such government calls for evidence.

'Engage widely'

The exhaustion of the experts follows a call for evidence by the Treasury on the umbrella company market; and since it closed in February (response pending), a further call for evidence by the Director of Labour Market Enforcement (DMLE), followed in April.

But the Future of Work terms of reference imply industry and experts from the private sector might not even be called to contribute.

In a section entitled ‘Stakeholder Engagement,’ former Daily Telegraph correspondent Mr Warman say he will “engage widely” with labour market policy experts -- “across government, academia and thinktanks.”

'Automation and virtual working'

But those terms won’t stop the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed from being heard, it implied yesterday.

“We look forward to contributing,” the association’s Andy Chamberlain said of the review by Mr Whitman, who specialised in reporting on the media and technology sectors.

“Technological changes such as automation and virtual working, as well as a shift in attitudes to work which has been compounded by the pandemic, mean that traditional 9-to-5 employment is likely to become less common.”

IPSE’s policy director, Mr Chamberlain continued: “Freelancers and the self-employed have always played a key role in lifting the UK out of economic downturns and can play an even bigger role in the labour market of tomorrow.”

'Kaleidoscope of issues needing a kaleidoscope of solutions'

But meeting yesterday to discuss that exact issue – the labour market of tomorrow – was a panel of experts which assembled to respond to the parallel, existing call for labour market evidence, from the DLME.

“I was honoured to chair a JobsAware roundtable with the UK government’s Labour Market Director Margarat Beels yesterday on today's and tomorrow's labour market,” posted Better Hiring Institute chair Keith Rosser.

“As one delegate said, our evolving UK labour market is, ‘a kaleidoscope of issues needing a kaleidoscope of solutions.’”

'Kick it into the long grass'

Contributing to that roundtable event with the DLME was the Freelancer & Contractor Services Association.

But the association’s chief executive Chris Bryce now needs to draw up a contribution to The Future of Work review too.

 “All these reviews and calls for evidence and pre-legislation consultations cost participants time and money,” he posted last night.

“I just hope this [Future of Work review] isn't a ‘kick it into the long grass’ tactic. The Taylor Review was well-balanced and meaningful, but Her Majesty’s government hasn't acted on it.”

Sounding a little weary and not overly optimistic either, Mr Bryce added: “And many of the submissions [to government] are not only well-evidenced by research and professional advice, but also come from contributors with many years’ experience and true expertise in their fields. It does become a little disheartening to see that effort come to naught. So often.”

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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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