Are the Liberal Democrats the party of the Freelancer?

22 Sep

Andrew Chamberlain, PCG’s Senior Public Affairs Advisor

Every year the Liberal Democrats congregate at their annual conference and espouse the virtues of electoral reform, the protection of civil liberties, greater European integration and other central tenants of the Liberal ideology. For some these issues resonate loudly but for the majority of the UK’s 1.4million freelancers, there are more pressing matters to deal with: what is the state of the economy? Will the Agency Workers Regulations affect the way I engage with clients? Can I afford to invest in training and new equipment? And where is my next contract going to come from? This year may just prove to be quite different as the Party voted on the single biggest issue that has affected freelancers over the last 11 years – IR35.

The Lib Dems are a somewhat unusual bunch (no, I’m not talking about their proclivity for beards and sandals although it has to be said that both were well represented in Birmingham over the last few days) as unlike the other two main parties they actually make policies at conference.  Motions are put to party members and they vote on them. There are a few exceptions to the rule but generally speaking if a motion is passed it is adopted as Party policy.  If it’s not, it isn’t. All very liberal; all very democratic.

On Monday afternoon, Julian Huppert MP proposed a motion which for the most part focuses on the rules around digital copyright infringement and illegally downloading files via peer to peer websites.  But in amongst the text of the Information Technology policy paper are a few short paragraphs on IR35.  The crux of it is this: the IR35 rules are unworkable and should be suspended, while further consideration is given to permanent abolition.  Freelancers of all political persuasions will be delighted to learn that the policy was endorsed by the conference.

What this is really going to mean for freelancers is as yet unclear.  Although it seems likely that the immediate suspension of IR35 is now Lib Dem party policy I’m told there are sometimes a few quirks which can pop up in the Party mechanism which could alter this.  Furthermore the timing does seem to be a little off: the Lib Dems form part of the Coalition Government which has already undertaken a thorough review of IR35 and has committed to keeping it in place while improving its administration by HMRC.  That work is still ongoing and will not be abandoned as a result of this vote.

Nevertheless it is heartening to know that some MPs do still recognise that the world would be a better place without IR35.  In Julian Huppert’s own words: ‘It’s important to create conditions that reward innovation and talent.’ PCG have contacted Mr Huppert and we will hopefully soon be able to clarify whether this endorsement of policy by the Lib Dems might change the Government’s position. In the meantime we will continue to work with the IR35 Forum to improve the situation on the ground for freelancers working in the UK.

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