Legal? Who cares…

Fascinating article in the Telegraph the other day. They were talking about the new investigation into senior civil servants getting paid through service companies rather than on the payroll. More fallout from Danny Alexander’s slightly deranged campaign from a few weeks back.

What caught my eye were a couple of quotes from an “HMRC spokesman”. They provide a fascinating insight into the civil service mentality.

Firstly, “The amount of tax legally avoided could run into tens of millions of pounds. ” Now hang on a minute. If the tax is “legally avoided”, it is not owed: to be precise, it doesn’t even exist. So how can HMRC claim they are losing tens of millions of pounds?

But it gets worse. “Many public sector engagement (sic) will already be paying the right tax as working   through a Personal Service Company can be a legitimate commercial   arrangement.”  Well that’s OK then, nobody’s breaking any laws. However, they go on to mutter about “high risk” and “correct   information” and “taking action”.

So what we’re saying is that HMRC intend persecuting a lot of people for doing nothing wrong in order to recover taxes that aren’t owed. Well that’s clear enough then.

The thing is, these miscreant civil servants didn’t get into this position by mistake. If they are working though a Limited Company, it’s because someone hired them to do so. You don’t mysteriously jump from employee to contractor without someone in the management team knowing about it. So if it’s wrong, why take it out on the worker, when it’s the client who’s actually to blame?

OK, so this is actually about senior civil servants looking to break the boundaries of their service agreements, which are quite restrictive in some ways (although I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t mind being restricted to the same salary and pension arrangements as the PM for a job for life…).

What is worrying is the perception that anyone not on the payroll is cheating. We’re not, quite a lot of us are genuine freelance contractors. It’s about time HMG realised the fact.

I came across a rather depressing question on one of the discussion boards recently; “Why do most ITIL implementations fail?”. Well that’s easy, I said, it’s because you’re treating them as implementation programmes. They aren’t, they’re about culture change. As the debate continued – ignoring my own pithy and probably correct assessment, needless to say – there are clearly two camps at work, those who can and those who teach.

ITIL, for those few who don’t know, is the all-pervasive flavour of the month in how to run IT departments. It started out as a series of best practice guides in the form of a shelf of little books on all the various elements of ho IT works in the real world. It was updated quite heavily into Version 2, which at its simplest encapsulated in two books all you really need to be doing. Then we had the later iteration into V3 which seems to have had the twin objectives of making ITIL unsuitable and greatly multiplying the number of courses you need to do to be allowed to talk about it.

I don’t do courses, incidentally, I stick to pragmatic application of best practice. It has the moderately useful benefit of being both understandable and effective. But that’s just me…

Anyway, back to the debate. The ones who can tended largely to agree with my position. ITIL isn’t something you implement, it has to be embedded in the whole department. If people don’t understand what it does for you, or if it is seen as merely a big pile of process and procedure, the techies will simply ignore it. Sadly, perhaps, that camp is the minority.

The ones that teach had great fun. Subsidiary questions were asked such as do you set up OLAs before SLAs, what’s the best tool to implement a CMDB, how many “Expert” qualifications do I need to study and in which order… Hilarious, if ultimately depressing.

I did a presentation a while back to a room full of people implementing ITIL in a linked group of organisations. Their objective was to ensure a consistency of approach so that in time they could start to share services and capabilities. My presentation was entitled “Why you don’t need ITIL” and it aimed to get them to think about what they were doing and why. At the end fo the day I’d persuaded one or two that having an “ITIL V3 Implementation Programme” running in splendid isolation was a bad idea and perhaps they ought to be putting people into the various delivery towers.

The really sad part is that the ITIL industry is starting to become self-defeating. It’s got so wrapped up in ITIL, it’s forgotten that the job is to deliver a seamless service. And that means the guys who deliver the service have to be involved from day one. Ignore that lesson at your peril.


Looking for work that is. Well I have been for a while, to be honest, but only in  half-hearted kind of a way, since it’s much more fun having a decent break, visiting friends in New Zealand and getting to know our new dog. Sadly, now is the time to get back to earning again.

And I thought I’d try a different approach. Fed up with the never-ending perusal of Jobserve, I thought I’d go all Web2 and use my contacts to scare up some openings. Well that went well…

Called an old boss of mine, who I know is head honcho at a site not a million miles from home. Love to have you on board, he said, got just the role for you, but I’ll have to go through the process. Get your CV over to the hiring team and I’ll be in touch when it comes through.

Called him two weeks later. Any joy? Nope, CV never arrived. Bugger.

Couple of days later the job appears on Jobserve. OK, so let’s try the traditional approach. Got to apply online for these guys, no email addresses quoted. Five pages of information later, up to and including my inside leg measurement, and it is accepted into the system. Even got an email to confirm it.

Hang on, it’s got attachments….

“Please complete the attached forms before we will consider your application”. Say what? Anyway, I unpack them and take a look. Seven (count them, seven) pages of A4. The first three covered all the same things I’d just filled in on line. the rest were about career history, financial references, personal references, explanations for periods where I wasn’t working – hey, I’m semi-retired, there’s lots of that – inside leg measurement for the other leg. I mean, come on, you can have all that when there;s an offer on the table. Can’t we at least do the interview bit first?

So I wrote back. Sorry, I have a life and clearly you don’t. I won’t be taking this forward.

So you have to ask exactly what value these people are adding to the process. They are an outsourced Human Remains team specialising in filling roles in a range of managed service contracts across the UK. I know I can do the job, I just spent the last 9 months doing exactly the same thing for another major system integrator. Clearly whatever epsilon semi-moron at the agency got to read the application didn’t get to that bit, too wrapped up in where I’ve been for the last three months to worry about little details like that. Sigh…

The job, incidentally, is still vacant. Can’t imagine why.



Hi everyone – he’s back.

This blog withered and died a while back because I was writing a rather more professional one for antoher site. Since I was getting paid for that  one (although not enough to retire on, sadly…) and it needed research and time spending on it, I ran out of bandwidth to try and keep both that one and this one running. However, that one has suffered a loss of sponsorship, but rather than relish the free time I find my pent up frustrations need release. So time to fire up Malvolio’s e-pen again.

Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war…

It is still important to remember that I remain a grumpy old git, but one with vast experience in freelancing in the UK market place and a pretty good understanding of the rules and regulations that govern it. I freely admit to being opinionated, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. And I’m always willing to be proved wrong…. honest!

There will be a consistent underlying theme though. If you want to be a UK freelancer then I will expect you to behave professionally at all times, understand the rules (at least, understand those that can be understood; many aren’t all that clear any more) and treat clients with respect.

Agents and governments, though, are fair game….