IT contracting 2007: Winners and Losers

The Contractor UK Bulletin Board is proof enough that the opinions of the UK's freelance IT professionals are as varied as they are provocative.

But over the last few weeks, visitors to Contractor UK have been voting to reach a consensus on the best and worst IT contracting had to offer in 2007.

Not only do the resulting CUK awards recognise unparalleled contributions, the bad as well as the good, they also offer newcomers the 'tried and tested' vote from seasoned contractors.

Unifying all IT contractors is the need for an end client to receive their services – often a UK-based employer, in contractor-speak the 'end user' or 'client company.'

In 2007, private sector support and service companies were clearly the favourite types of organisation for IT contractors to engage, and attracted the most votes.

Not for the first time, IT contractors voted BT plc as the 'Best Client' of the year, beating off competition from O2, the mobile services group, and Compass, the food services giant.

"BT is delighted to be voted 'best client' for IT contractors, for the second consecutive year," said a BT spokesman, accepting CUK's congratulations yesterday.

"Contractors make a genuinely valuable contribution to the ongoing transformation of BT into a leading IT services company, and we welcome the recognition that this award represents."

The ICT giant, which sources its contactors solely through Manpower, also won a flurry of compliments from ex-contractors. For less professional reasons so did Spearmint Rhino, the gentleman's nightclub.

To source their work, most IT contractors continue to use recruitment agencies, sometimes begrudgingly, explaining why 'Best Agency' of the year is the most contested category.

Votes poured in for Hudson, Elan and Computer People, as they did for Harvey Nash, which came close to winning 'Best Agency' of the year, only to be pipped at the last-minute by Hays, the FTSE-listed recruiter.

IT contractors also monitor internet job sites to find assignments, but similar to recruitment agencies, a definitive experience applicable to all candidates is difficult to pin down.

Yet in 2007, almost seven out of ten contractors voted Jobserve as the best online resource for contract work, overwhelmingly making it the 'Best Job Board' of the year.

CWJobs came second, Jobsite followed and newcomer Technojobs came fourth, with only a few votes splitting these runner-ups.

To administer their financial affairs, most IT contractors use accountants despite fierce debate about which specialist offers the best advice, attention and value for money.

For 2007, IT contractors cast the vote wide, including endorsements for the professional services of Nixon Williams, Accountants4Contractors, Quay, Danbro and JSA.

But the most support was reserved for SJD Accountancy, which attracted one in four of all votes in this category, to comfortably win 'Best Accountancy Firm' of the year.

"The Contractor UK Award for 'Best Contractor Accountant' is a special award, as it is one of the few awards in our industry that is voted [for] by our core market – contractors and freelancers.

"To win the award for the second year running is a testament to the efforts of the whole company and their commitment to continually providing outstanding levels of customer service," said Simon Dolan, the firm's managing partner.

Another ubiquitous feature of the IT contracting industry is the umbrella company, but like agencies, accountants and clients, opinions on the best providers tend to be varied.

In 2006, IT contractors voted Giant plc as the 'Best Umbrella' provider, and for 2007, the London-run business has done it again - emerging as the brolly with the highest level of user satisfaction.

Matthew Brown, its managing director, told CUK he was "delighted" to have retained the title.

"Providing the best customer service to contractors is Giant's primary aim," added Michael Healy, operations director.

"The team at Giant are delighted that readers of Contractor UK, the leading contractor website, recognised Giant's continuing commmitment to customer service".

ContractorUmbrella came second, followed closely by Parasol, with the rest of contractors' votes split almost evenly between Danbro, Brookson, Quay, Norla and No Longer Ltd.

On the lighter side of IT contracting, a forum post called 'test please delete,' once a collection of the internet's barely-dressed ladies won 'Most Entertaining Forum Thread', despite now being censored.

Since its posting on Nov 4, 2005, it has racked up over 62,000 views and was started when one forum member, Zeitghost, said the trial message "has to remain here until the end of the Universe."

It is fitting, then, that for 2007, forum members have voted Zeitghost as the 'Forum Personality' of the year – an accolade he reflected on last night, as he gave his acceptance speech to CUK.

"It brings a tear to my bleary old Lizardy eye just to think of it," he mused. "Thank you all. I couldn't have done it without you. I'm just addressing the brown envelopes".

Elsewhere in the CUK poll, and boiling contractors' blood more than any category, is the controversial question; 'who or what has been the biggest hindrance to IT contracting in '07?'

Although varied in the actual responses that came in, a CUK spokeswoman said all the answers pointed to one unifying culprit: The Labour government.

She said: "There were several votes specifically for Gordon Brown - because of what contractors see as his obsession with making life difficult for small businesses.

"But a high proportion also said HM Revenue & Customs, legislation, red tape, corporation tax, income shifting proposals and some old pet hates of contractors like IR35 and s660A."

Inert clients who either refuse to alter contracts to reduce the risk of IR35 or fail to clearly word their agreements were singled out as growing obstacles to IT contractors. Agencies posting fake jobs also emerged as a bigger problem than it was in 2006.

Elsewhere, even the pollster took some flak; asked the biggest hindrance to IT contracting last year, one forum poster replied: "Contractor UK as it makes [my] deadlines harder to meet."

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