insidePCG Blog has now moved

26 Apr

Thank you for finding us on WordPress.

Our blog has now moved to our own site which can be found at www.pcg.org.uk/blog.

Please follow the link to get the latest views from the team at PCG.

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A new year and a new era for PCG

15 Jan

In 1999, a small group of IT contractors took exception to new rules being imposed by the ImageGovernment of the time which worked on the premise that if you chose to work in a way commonly adopted by a large number of legitimate contractors, you were deemed to be operating within ‘IR35’. So, this merry band of contractors pulled together, stumped up some cash and formed the Professional Contractors Group, writes Regan Burke.

 

 

The foremost aim for the group in the beginning was to defend UK contractors against tax legislation such as the aforementioned IR35 and latterly, to provide support, surrounding all things freelancing.

With the membership based far and wide across the UK even in the early days, there was a pressing need for an IT infrastructure. To begin with, it was most likely based on an old Intel 486 running some version of Linux with a MySQL database – simple and effective. In fact, so effective that we still ran Linux, and MySQL with PHP and apache for our membership system until very recently, and it has been more than fit for purpose.

Over the last 13 years we have scaled up the backend systems to cater for the growing membership numbers extremely well, developed by it’s own members for the most part. However, PCG has grown to become a well respected organisation with a large, knowledgeable and engaged membership. With in excess of 21,000 members and growing by the day to support, our current systems are no longer able to deliver the modern online services our members deserve nor the metrics our commercial team need in order to progress us through the next phase of PCG’s life.

A decision was made by the PCG board in April of 2011 that we needed a new, proven but purpose built, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. The system would need to integrate into a new purpose built website and an alternative Forum application to the existing and antiquated UBBThreads. PID’s for both the website and the CRM were signed off by the board in June of 2011 and 15 possible vendors were sent invitations to tender in September. At the December 2011 board meeting Microsoft Dynamics CRM supplied by Excitation Limited, a website by CTI Digital and VBulliten were selected to become the integrated solution for PCG. The detailed requirements definition phase of the project kicked off in earnest early in 2012. Excitation got stuck right in and started spec’ing up the required customisations to Dynamics, CTI began the process validating our web strategy and putting together designs for the new site and IT team began the process of understanding the differences between UBBThreads and VBulletin.

By May 2012 development of custom modules for Dynamics was well underway, website designs had been signed off and the build phase was in progress. We had also successfully completed a full migration of our existing forum into VBulletin.

Testing and user familiarisation of Dynamics began in July 2012, while on the web side integration work with Dynamics began. By the end of October 2012 System Integration testing was complete and the process of populating the new website with content was verging on completion.

Now, as we move into the new year and a bright 2013, we possess a complete solution that is ready to go. A Beta preview with your elected Consultative Council is now in full swing prior to the launch of the new PCG website and Forum on 17th January 2013.

Since we kicked off this project a year ago there have been ups and downs, victories and defeats but we are now at a stage where all of the hard work has paid off. The new site will sport a fresh design with simple imagery and navigation, single sign on for our members between the main site and the PCG Forum and a new self service area, named MyPCG.

To see more please visit http://www.pcg.org.uk on 17th January 2013 from 1000.

Regan Burke
Head of IT
PCG

Progress, change and a little culture – NFD one week on…

28 Nov

John Brazier, PCG’s Managing Director, gives his thoughts on National Freelancers Day, one week after the successful event…

Almost a week has now passed since the fourth edition of National Freelancers Day – a day which truly celebrated the valuable contribution that freelancers bring to businesses across the UK economy.
 
When PCG launched ‘NFD’ in 2009, the year of our tenth anniversary, we chose a fitting venue in the Houses of Parliament, not least because it is a place we have become very familiar with over the years. In 2010 we added the first ‘Freelance Lecture’ debate to the day, staged in the magnificent surroundings of the Stationers and Newspaper Makers Livery Hall, near St Pauls. In 2011 we went a little ‘musical’, finding ourselves at the magnificent LSO St Lukes near Old Street, home of the London Symphony Orchestra, and which over the years became the occasional home of the BBC’s very own Question Time programme.
 
So it was another important step in the evolution of NFD when we found ourselves at the Royal Society of Arts last Wednesday evening for an event which featured just such a debate as its main attraction.
 
As I walked through the packed Great Hall towards the stage to deliver my opening speech, I glanced up at James Barry’s spectacular 18th Century mural, named ‘The Progress of Human Knowledge and Culture’. It occurred to me when looking back on a successful evening that Barry’s masterpiece provided the perfect backdrop given the challenges facing us at present.
 
Though these challenges are economic rather than artistic, the themes of progress and change are very much to the fore. With more and more evidence that this evolution is driven by the UK’s 1.6 million independent professionals, it is clearer than ever before that freelancers are the very businesses who can act as economic agents of the recovery. As a result, there has never been a greater need for business and Government to be aware of the freelance offering and to embrace the sector.

Ahead of the curve – freelancers at the forefront of change

23 Nov

Celia Surtees, Policy Adviser at PCG, analyses one of the hottest topics at National Freelancers Day 2012 – ‘innovation’.

Regardless of party affiliations Alastair Campbell is widely renowned as one of the best political communicators of modern times. It’s amazing to think therefore that some of the communication tools which are today regarded as essential didn’t exist when he left number 10. His departure in 2003 pre-dates the creation of Facebook by a year, Twitter by three years and countless other online innovations we now take for granted.

These tools have become so ubiquitous in modern life that it is almost impossible to imagine a time without them. Indeed, for those looking to forge a career in marketing or communications mastery of these tools is now considered essential. There are now entire roles dedicated to the management of social media tools and it can be as important to have Tweetdeck skills on your CV as Word and Excel. Campbell himself counts tweeting and updating his blog as important parts of his working life.

For freelancers, maintaining a grasp of new innovations and learning how to use them to your advantage is vital – and not just in terms of technology. Indeed over the course of NFD 2012 a refrain heard again and again was that freelancers need to be even further ahead of the curve than most in order to survive.

The distinguished panel at NFD returned to this theme a number of times during their debate on Wednesday evening. Freelancers, by embracing new ways of working and innovating as they go, are leading the way for the workforce at large.

One of the final questions put to the panel on the evening was whether they thought in 20 years time freelancers would outnumber traditional payroll staff. Opinions on this were divided, but reflecting on the event in his blog later, Campbell acknowledged that the fact he was even asked shows how the economy is evolving – with freelancers at the forefront of the change.

I think we can all agree with him when he says that “those who adapt best are the ones who will do best in the future”.

What makes a freelancer? NFD says be brave.

22 Nov

Andrew Chamberlain, Senior Policy Adviser at PCG gives his take on National Freelancers Day 2012…

‘Gumption’ is the word that Alastair Campbell used.  John Niland talked about guts and determination.  Jane Wood and Bill Parsons put it more plainly – ‘courage’.  The panel at this year’s National Freelancers Day were discussing one of the key attributes of being a freelancer.  They agreed that of all the characteristics needed to be successful in freelancing – knowledge, expertise, flexibility, confidence, integrity (to name just a few)  – ‘courage’ is perhaps the most important.

As any freelancer knows, the prospect of leaving behind the security of a salaried position and striking out on your own can be daunting.  It’s not for everyone and there are many who prefer to remain within employment.  They are attached to the holiday benefits, the sick pay, the employee’s rights and of course, to the guaranteed wages that come in every month. Yet, if asked, those same people will very often say they would prefer to work for themselves.  The freedom to pick and choose their own work schedule appeals to them and they covet the autonomy from office politics enjoyed by freelancers.

So why is it that only some people take the plunge?  Our panel of experts believe it all comes down to courage.  The courage to believe in your own skill set.  The courage to take on the responsibility of running your own business.  The courage to spurn financial security in search something better, more fulfilling and more rewarding.  Those rewards can be great, and not just for the freelancers themselves.

A new report by Professor Andrew Burke ‘The Role of Freelancers in the 21st Century British Economy’ shows that freelancers play a pivotal role in the economy.  They are sources of and conduits for entrepreneurialism and the benefits of using freelancers are being reaped by all types of business, from multinational corporations to SMEs.  Freelancers enable innovation which helps businesses grow and in turn drives the economy.

So to the UK’s 1.6 million freelancers PCG would like to say a big thank you.  It is your courage that is helping to push the economy back to growth and that benefits everyone in society, including those very same employees that one day just might take the plunge too.

Lord Heseltine calls Govt to leave no stone unturned for business…

6 Nov

I was very encouraged to see Lord Heseltine calling for more dynamism and the encouragement of entrepreneurialism within the UK economy in the report he presented to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Business Secretary Vince Cable last week. He makes a powerful case for the redistribution of power, influence and wealth in order to successfully rebalance the economy towards private sector growth and his comments on ‘cutting red tape’ are particularly encouraging.

As I watched Lord Heseltine present his report (which you can read for yourself here) to a packed audience at Birmingham Town Hall, I could not help but notice the correlation between his recommendations and the way the freelancing landscape has organically grown in the UK over the last few years. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the agile, flexible, country-wide network of growth-enablers Heseltine calls for already exists in microcosm – a readymade blueprint for the Government to follow!

Lord Heseltine also made it very clear that he believes there is a pressing need for better, more efficient Government procurement and enhanced departmental management information systems.  Given the recent issues freelancers have experienced in this area, it is encouraging to hear a senior political figure highlight the issues many of you deal with on a daily basis.

Simply put, the report highlights the need for the Government to get behind business.To use Lord Heseltine’s own words, when it comes to small businesses this is often as simple as just “getting out of the way”.

By John Brazier, PCG’s Managing Director

Freelancers – have I got news for you (and it’s not good)

17 Jul

It feels like tax, and specifically tax avoidance, has been making the headlines almost daily over the past few months, and it has offered a rare opportunity for MPs to agree with each other. They were queuing up to voice their disgust after the Ed Lester case, and did so again, with varying degrees of success (I’m looking at you David Cameron) after the Jimmy Carr scandal. Now, following various stories regarding the pay and tax arrangements of some of its presenters, the BBC has found itself to be the latest focus of the collective ministerial ire.

Andrew Chamberlain, PCG’s Senior Public Affairs Advisor

Here was an opportunity to score some easy points, a rare open goal of public opinion that few managed to resist. However, while watching them stand one after the other in Parliament and voice their outrage, it occurred to me that they might do well to remember that hitting the bullseye doesn’t get you any points when you are aiming at the wrong target altogether.

The truth is, most freelancers that use a limited company do so because it represents best value to their engager. The BBC admitted via a recent article in the Guardian that they stipulate “all freelancers earning over £10,000 must operate as a limited company” and they are far from alone. It is common practice for agencies and engagers in both the public and private sector to insist freelancers and contractors are paid through limited companies for various reasons.

To be fair to Danny Alexander, Margaret Hodge and the rest, the taxation system for freelancers and independent professionals is almost as difficult to understand as it is to work with. It isn’t surprising that they make inaccurate statements such as “these people are operating off-payroll when they should be employees”. The BBC has not helped the situation if reports of a whistle blower claiming he or she was presented with the choice between receiving payment via a limited company or taking a substantial pay cut are true.

If accurate, this sounds like a straightforward attempt by the BBC to reduce its tax bills and perhaps its obligations as an employer too. Where an engagement has been artificially constructed solely to reduce tax bills the Government are right to investigate that arrangement and where appropriate put a stop to it. However the exposure of what appears to be an (albeit ill advised) attempt by the BBC to save money does not alter the fact that the model itself is undeniably the most appropriate for broadcasting.  In a world where frequently changing personnel is key to maintaining a fresh output and appeal, the use of freelancers is absolutely the right approach. In terms of quality of output and value to the licence fee payer, the BBC has got it right.

The Government must also be mindful that in certain industries using freelancers is quite simply the most appropriate method of finding the talented personnel needed for individual projects.  It is no surprise therefore that the biggest broadcaster in the UK makes use of the UK’s world-leading flexible labour market. Our message to the Government is therefore simple. We hate to see tax avoidance just as much as you do, but don’t punish legitimate freelancers and their engagers in your haste to stamp it out. The BBC, and the UK, needs them.

By Andrew Chamberlain, PCG’s Senior Public Affairs Adviser

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