If you asked a school leaver keen to work in the fresh air to name the job furthest away from sitting behind a desk in an office, there’s a fair chance he or she would come up with ‘tarmac contractor’ – or something similar.
After all, what could be less office based than getting out there with tools and machinery and using a combination of manual labour and the latest equipment to lay a smart new road, footpath, car park or driveway?
But while that desk-free outdoor life may be the case for many of Getting There Groundworks’ employees, the dream of being allowed to get on with the job proves elusive for those of us at the helm of even an average-sized contracting business.
Barely a month goes by, it seems, without new legislation to follow, new rules to implement or new guidelines to worry about – and I’m not talking about health and safety; for those of us in the industry, looking after our workforce is the number one priority, and most health and safety legislation helps us do that.
The biggest challenges come from the Treasury, with bold new schemes to generate more tax, or at least, make sure they receive what they are due. That’s not a bad ambition – we all benefit from everyone paying the right amount of tax – but it can create unwanted headaches for those of us who want to be driving machinery rather than a calculator.
The recent news that HMRC had delayed the introduction of the VAT domestic reverse charge for construction services was welcome – but even that was only a postponement. Those of us in the industry still have to worry about the forthcoming change, even if it’s been put back 12 months.
And now, weeks later, comes a reminder that we need to be preparing for the introduction of off-payroll legislation, which goes by the Star Wars-like name of IR35.
This legislation is designed to ensure contractors operating via a Personal Service Company (PSC) are paying broadly the same tax as employed workers, if that is essentially what they are. If they are genuinely operating as a contractor, then their tax status stays the same.
This is not the place to go into the detail of the legislation, but it won’t come as a surprise to discover that the onus on sorting it out lies with the employer – or that is could cost businesses a lot of money if they want to keep hold of valuable ‘employees’ caught by the legislation.
Again, the principle is solid. The extra £725m annual tax revenue expected to be generated across the private sector by IR35 could help pay for a new hospital – or at least help the country cope with Brexit for a couple of days – but helping HMRC collect it will be another headache for the small businesses that are the lifeblood of this country.
As one commentator pointed out: The impact of this new legislation on all UK businesses is substantial; new processes, policies and system updates need to be implemented and managed.” The fact that we would all rather be doing the day job is, I guess, beside the point.