IPSE’s Policy Development Manager, Jordan Marshall, has been poring over the government’s newly published Industrial Strategy in search of implications for independent contracting professionals and other self-employed workers. His overall impression was “Good, but could do better.”

Departing from the previous administration’s approach under David Cameron, the new strategy adopts a more interventionist stance aimed at improving economic productivity and innovation. It also seeks to spread the benefits of economic growth more evenly around the country.

One of Marshall’s first observations, however, is the failure of the strategy to even mention professional contracting or self-employment, a somewhat jarring oversight given that independent, flexible workers travel across the country to help businesses innovate and grow more quickly.

Even so, he welcomed the strategy’s emphasis on improving skills and training, which remains one of the best means of enabling people to secure better remunerated and more rewarding work. The government plans to invest £500m each year in the new T-Levels and intends to create a new National Retraining Scheme, launched with £64m investment in digital and construction training.

But where do contracting professionals stand in relation to these initiatives? IPSE has long recommended making new skills training tax deductible for flexible workers and has welcomed the budget announcement that “the government will consult in 2018 on extending the scope of tax relief currently available to employees and the self-employed for work-related training costs.”

In a similar vein, Marshall suggests an adaptation to the Apprenticeship Levy that would benefit independent contractors and self-employed people. Currently, employment intermediaries such as recruitment firms and Umbrella Companies are obliged to pay the levy, even though many on their payrolls are wrongly classified as company employees when they are in fact contracting professionals. Marshall recommends using the funds to enhance the skills of the contractors who appear on their payrolls.

IPSE has welcomed the four “Sector Deals” included in the strategy, and in particular the Construction Sector Deal, as more than two million self-employed contractors work in this sector. The government’s proposal to reform the much-criticised Construction Industry Training Board meets with IPSE’s approval, as the body has come under fire for not doing enough to support the upskilling and development of the self-employed contractors upon whom the sector depends.

Marshall also welcomed the strategy’s commitment to improving infrastructure – vital to widely-travelling, remote-working contractors – and its support for Matthew Taylor’s views on developing “good work.” IPSE is currently contributing to BEIS on what “good self-employed work” would look like while emphasising that independent, flexible working must play a role in any effective strategy.

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