Appoint a Freelance Commissioner at Spending Review, chancellor urged

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Creative industries freelancers deserve a ‘Freelance Commissioner,’ who could scrutinise government policy to ensure it is “fit for purpose” for the self-employed.

Issuing this recommendation, a new report says such a commissioner is vital because creative freelancers are “poorly served” by “many parts” of the UK’s policy infrastructure.

Authored by the Policy and Evidence Unit at innovation body Nesta, the report acknowledges that a Freelancer Commissioner was first mooted in a letter to the chancellor in Nov 2020.

'No official feedback on 2020's Freelancer Commissioner proposal'

But given “no official feedback” from Rishi Sunak -- as the body’s head of policy Eliza Easton put it yesterday to FreelanceUK, Nesta is tabling the idea of an appointed ‘FC’ again.

And crucially, the body is re-tabling the Freelancer Commissioner proposal just in time for potential inclusion in a package Mr Sunak has explicitly asked for contributions on, Spending Review 2021 due on Oct 27th.

Nesta said: “In our Spending Review submission, we point out that there is really fundamental work which needs to be done cross-department, around data, which the FC could critically lead”.

'Clear understanding of self-employment structures'

Responding to questions, Ms Easton continued: “Until all government departments have a clear understanding of the structures and numbers relating to self-employed work…they will struggle to design adequate policies [for the self-employed]”.

The idea is for the FC to test government initiatives for their freelance-friendliness ‘whether a policy area is new or not,’ the policy expert added, yet it is new areas which will likely be easier to shape around the self-employed.

Upskilling for the ‘new normal’ --the society freelancers are getting back to from the coronavirus pandemic -- is a case in point.

'Reliant on freelancers'

In fact, despite freelancers accounting for 32% of the creative workforce, historically in the UK, “skills policies have not often been aimed at the self-employed workforce.”

Clearly eyeing 'covid-reskillng' as a new policy area where the FC could make a difference, and correct the historical anomaly, the Spending Review submission by Nesta’s PEC further states:

“[As] the number of freelancers working in creative occupations aged 25-29 and 40-49 saw particularly steep declines (from 30,000 to 20,000 and 50,000 to 38,000 respectively) during will be critical to ensure that [government] skills interventions…like ‘employer-led skills bootcamps’ do not disadvantage those sectors that are most reliant on freelancers.”

'Limitations of freelance work'

In other words, in the UK, no nationwide skills policy should in future be drawn up without “fully recognising the structures, opportunities and limitations of freelance work.”

And, adds the submission, those self-employed structures (such as a sole tradership) would be made recognisable, in-depth (such as featuring contract data) and directly collected as information by the FC.

“This data should [then] be standardised across different government departments to give policy-makers [in those departments] the information they need to enact…policy [better suited to the self-employed],” the Nesta policy unit says.

'Limited visa pathways for self-employed'

“[Currently,] a significant amount of data is collected by government [departments] on employment status [yet] there is still limited evidence on the complex working practices and business models of the self-employed. [So] the second priority [of the FC] should be to improve national data collection on types…of self-employment”.

Envisioned by Nesta to sit somewhere between the Prime Minister’s Office and HM Treasury, the role of Freelance Commissioner would also require the holder to press to widen the currently “limited pathways” of entry into the UK for skilled freelancers, the body said.

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