I have now completed the grand milestone of two weeks in the post as your CEO, having clearly joined the FCSA at a time when the wider economy and the sector continue to face substantial change.
We must take heed of the warnings that COVID-19 may return in greater numbers in the months ahead and these cycles, and the psychological effects it has had on the working population, suggests working life may never return to the old normal.
The Wellbeing Lab estimates that up to 80% of the workforce do not want to return to their old working arrangements. Employers who carry the fixed-costs of office premises, or who have not yet invested in remote technology may be tempted to encourage their workforce back to the old ways to justify their current infrastructure. This is a guaranteed way to disengage talented people and the consequence over the medium term will become obvious. As a result, we should begin to look in detail at how we can all become more corporately agile. This is never more relevant as we see change being forced upon us and our workforces.
The furlough scheme will change again at the end of this month, and, like any sector, it will have a profound effect on each of your businesses, your employees, and of course, the wider economy is already changing dramatically.
But whilst there is a seismic shift in the economy, there is an opportunity for those companies that are agile. Unfortunately, some of the most agile are opportunistic companies that have no interest in compliance or indeed will simply break the law to advantage themselves.
The changes in the wider economy, possible trading sanctions with China, uncertainty over Brexit implications, off-payroll reforms, and umbrella regulation on the horizon mean there may be a substantial shift in how we, as a sector, must operate.
One of the consequences of this environment is that the number of unscrupulous players in our sector may increase and they may see FCSA Accreditation as a convenient commercial badge. As a result, and in preparation for such, the FCSA Board is meeting on the 6th of August to look carefully at the entry standards for FCSA membership.
At some point in the near future, we must ensure that the current standards of membership are as robust as they can be and that will, of course, entail meaningful discussions with the membership and assessor partners to ensure we continue to be seen as the leaders in terms of standards and compliance. As someone who has been involved in developing accreditation standards in other sectors, I am extremely impressed by the standard and processes of the FCSA review programme. As well as assuring the sector of supply chain compliance and that our members operate to the highest standards, it is also one of the best health check tools I have ever seen and with the scrutiny and support of highly respected assessors, this can only benefit member companies. It keeps you legal, compliant, and differentiates you in the marketplace.
I am looking at ways in which we can capture the valuable data and themes from these reviews to produce regular best-practice feedback modules for all members, and to demonstrate that our members are embracing continuous improvement.
I have already had some very useful conversations with the Labour Market Enforcement Directorate, which is the key body in terms of umbrella regulation, and you will be aware that primary legislation and first readings for any umbrella regulation have been delayed due to the pandemic. They are, however, keen to engage with the FCSA as the recommendations begin to emerge. As a result, I have been invited to attend their quarterly meetings and I will keep you posted as we progress. I have also had preliminary meetings with HMRC regarding their proposed guidance on the off-payroll reforms and again, as we progress these discussions I will keep you informed.
On the 22nd of July, the Finance Bill received Royal Assent and so IR35/off-payroll is now certain to come into being in April 2021. Whilst FCSA members understand the changes and obligations that will ensue, it is not necessarily the case in our supply chains. I am looking carefully at how the supply chain, namely recruiters and end-hirers, can be educated by the FCSA and stress the importance of compliant supply chains.
Like all legislative changes, case precedent tends to follow rather than inform and so setting the bar high in terms of FCSA code amendments will only save us all time and money in the long term whilst protecting the freelancer population.
In this newsletter you will find the usual, and extremely valuable, Brabners legal update; and I’m delighted to welcome a relatively new FCSA Business Partner – SmartPension – who will be making their first contribution to the FCSA newsletter.
Phil Pluck, FCSA Chief Executive