Brexit impact on freelancers and UK creative firms, ‘an absolute nightmare’

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The impact of Brexit on freelancers and the UK’s creative industries has been laid bare.

In a damning new report, the government is starkly reminded that it put in place “no clear provisions…dedicated to self-employed” people from abroad, in the 2020 Brexit deal.

In its 62 pages, the report warns that replacing freedom of movement with a single immigration system that “does not accommodate” such freelancers “could be problematic.”

'Nightmare, nightmare; an absolute nightmare'

The self-employed account for 27% of the UK creative workforce, but pre-Brexit, over 70% of non-British freelancers’ engagers said they could not replace them with Britons.

Sectors strongly reliant on EEA and non-EAA freelancers stand to be “particularly affected,” warns the report, by the Creative Industries Policy & Evidence Centre (PEC) at NESTA.

Put less formally, no worker mobility provisions in the Brexit deal for freelancers from the EU and beyond, is a “nightmare; nightmare…[an] absolute nightmare.”

'Hey Creatives...Nope!'

A performing arts CEO in London who contributed to a survey commissioned by the report, Post-Brexit Migration and Accessing Talent in the Creative Industries, continued:

“The fluidity of being able to kind of come over [to the UK], actually for both sides, that points-based system [we now have]; is just not fit [for] purpose -- for a freelance existence.”

A second contributor to the report-survey, an HR manager for a UK design company summed up: “It’s like the government has gone, ‘Hey creatives…Nope!’”

'Freelancer livelihoods depend on visa reform'

Eliza Easton of the NESTA-led PEC confirmed yesterday that with concerns for their bottom line, people operating on a self-employed basis are pinning their hopes on a new visa system.

“Reform is needed to the visa system, to ensure the future health of our creative industries -- and the livelihoods of freelancers,” Ms Easton, PEC’s deputy director told FreelanceUK.

“Our approach is to focus now on what policy recommendations, based on the evidence, could improve the situation for freelancers, who are the lifeblood of the creative sector.”

'Contract-to-contract basis'

And that evidence shows that many affected freelancers, such as artists, work on a “contract-to-contract basis.”

But the report says the new immigration system overlooks this dynamic, with consequences for both the freelancer and the engager, as a TV/film company boss told the survey.

“With their contracts expiring they've been [used to] easily [being] able to go ‘right I'm just going to go and work across at another studio”’, the boss began, talking of lighting artists.

'You cant even hold a really good pool of talent'

“[But with] visas, you then need to have them [other studios] as a Tier 2 sponsor to take on the sponsorship with the applications for them [the artists], to be able to move.

“[As an engager] you can't even hold a really good pool of talent in an area without it just causing you more problems.”

To try to adapt, some UK production companies have tried to take on British freelancers, but they sound frustrated at having to hire people who aren’t their first choice.

'Narrowed the field'

“We did some recruitment in August/September last year, and for simplicity we recruited UK workers,” reflected another TV/Film sector leader.

“[But] it narrowed the field quite significantly, which is not kind of what we would have wanted…[as] there were candidates that we would have definitely employed previously that were from the EU”.

At PEC, Ms Easton is dismayed but not surprised at the evidence received by her colleagues; the report’s authors -- Ian Fillis, Mohamed Haddoud Mohamed and Tammy Murphy.

'Lord Frost was too purist'

“Former Brexit Minister Lord Frost has himself accepted that he was ‘too purist’ in Brexit negotiations”, Ms Easton said.

“[Lord Frost sought and secured] a streamlined approach, rather than agreeing the exemptions clearly needed for [freelancers like] artists and musicians regarding visas.”

Dealing with the visa process when hiring international workers emerged in the report as the second “most challenging” aspect affecting creative firms’ access to global talent.

PEC says that several participants stressed that today’s post-Brexit UK visa requirements “narrow down” options when it comes to hiring freelancers from overseas.

'Remote working'

And accounts given to the centre imply that whether they need a freelance choreographer or set designer, firms find the sponsorship and visa hoops to jump through disproportionate to the “maybe [just] four weeks’ work” required.

Some interviewees mentioned trying to adopt “remote working” but there can be practical barriers due to the nature of the work, and if no barriers, issues of cost and taxation.

“The ‘temporary’ nature of freelance work does not seem to be considered by the post-Brexit visa process and this has made hiring international freelancers almost impossible,” states the report, paraphrasing its survey participants.

'Freelancer-access compromised'

Soberly, the PEC authors conclude: “Freelancers are particularly crucial since the creative industries are often ‘project-based production systems’ requiring a variety of creative skills that can be gained through hiring freelancers. However, access to this group seems to have been compromised.”

Reflecting on one of the report’s eight recommendations– to introduce a new visa scheme to “accommodate” both creative freelancers and the “fast-moving nature of the creative industries,” Ms Easton told FreelanceUK:

“The UK's creative industries, ranging from fashion and film to video games and visual arts, are respected across the world.

“We want to ensure they can continue to thrive and take advantage of new technologies and the entertainment economy and to do this we feel the government will need to look again at the visa system, to find a better way forward for creative freelancers, and international creatives at the start of their careers.”

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