The new focus on ensuring contractors are genuinely temporary workers and not disguised full-time employees is causing a commotion in the public sector.
Both councils and contractors themselves are questioning what is seen in some quarters as a heavy-handed move to claw back more tax, with councils having to do the heavy-lifting.
It is good to see some debate on the issue of how we use contractors but the current conversation is missing an important point.
The more significant problem is the question of what value contractors bring to the public sector, particularly IT contractors, given the enormous amount we pay them: an estimated £8bn per year based on the government’s figures.
I’m not questioning either the skills of contractors or the need for the public sector to bring in additional skills and resources where necessary.
The problem is the way councils deploy and manage these resources.
As an external consultant who manages teams of consultants working with councils, I am very clear about how to offer our clients added value.
At the outset of each piece of work we do, we establish what needs to be done, the desired outcomes and the timeline.
If we do the work well, we hope to be rehired. We certainly would not expect to find ourselves in an organisation on a long-term basis. If we got to a position where we weren’t adding value or couldn’t deliver what we were hired to do, we would no longer expect to be working for that client.
For some reason, this not the way the public sector uses contractors, certainly ones in the IT space. We frequently come across teams of contractors who are effectively a permanent in-house resource on business-as-usual programmes.
The main difference between these individuals and their permanent colleagues is the lack of performance management and the money they make each month.
Therein lies the big opportunity: to reset the way we engage and manage this powerful resource so it delivers more.
We need robust performance management for contractors, with contracts aligned to strategic goals so these teams are delivering the best return on investment.
Each engagement needs to be treated like a piece of consultancy, with a clear start, middle and end, as well as contractual outcomes.
If ever there was a good moment to think about this it is now: focusing on outcomes and deadlines rather than day rates and tax arrangements would benefit us all.
We all need specialists to help us out from time to time but we must make sure when we use them we are paying for outcomes and using someone who can deliver on their plans and then move on when the work is done.
Vee Rogacheva, digital campaign manager & user experience designer, Eduserv