The Guardian, presumably sensing sales in popular outrage, seems determined to pursue an ill-informed Jihad against freelancers.
Following its attacks on …
- interim managers at the ONR (24th February)
- consultants in local authorities (17th February)
- the health department (16th February)
- and the Student Loans Company (1st and 2nd February)
… the Guardian’s latest target is the BBC which apparently “pays 3,000 freelancers through personal service companies”.
Whilst there may well be cases of abuse amongst these (where individuals who would otherwise be seen as “permanent employees” have been allowed to route their earnings through a personal service company), the vast majority are independent professionals who provide their knowledge, skills, experience and expertise to client organisations on a short-term, project basis. Such individuals are operating as small businesses, using their abilities to generate revenue from a range of customers (either concurrent or consecutive). They incur business costs, bear business risks and pay business taxes. I wrote a fuller description of the business model here.
In turning its attention to the media world with the BBC, the Guardian bumbles onto increasingly thin ice. The arts and media world, like the press, has long-used independent, freelance individuals. The project nature of much work in these fields is ideal for an expertise-on-demand model and many independents, especially in the world of television, will have invested heavily in their own equipment. A freelance sound-editor will move from project to project, sometimes having too much work to cope with and at other times funding their way through lean periods.
By using freelancers, the BBC – like any sensible organisation – avoids carrying expensive, talented individuals on its books when there is no work for them (something that we tax and license payers should be grateful for).
The personal service company is not a tax dodge, it is a perfectly valid, arguably the most valid, arrangement for these small businesses.
Media and creative arts is an area the UK excels at and is a growth area for the UK’s economy. Freelancing, as a model of individual choice, is also growing (34.8% over the last ten years).
The Guardian, as its Three Little Pigs ad suggests, would do better to feed informed debate rather than vilify those who are leveraging their expertise to build successful small businesses and, along the way, contributing to a thriving, flexible economy.
Exposing abuse should be more about surgery than slaughter.