HR · 1 December 2016

The future of the gig economy hangs in the balance

deliveroo
Opportunities within the gig economy have brought self-employment to constitute 15 per cent of the UK workforce

The debate on the future of self-employment in Britain is in full swing, as the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) officially opened the Taylor review yesterday (30 November).

The inquiry was called for by prime minister Theresa May to find solutions to the implications of the so-called “gig economy”, after a high profile tribunal case against on-demand taxi platform Uber saw its workers win full employee status.

The six-month review, named after its head Matthew Taylor, CEO of the Royal Society of Arts and one of our Small Business Decision Makers for 2017, is intended to shine a light on the grey areas of freelance employment.

In a statement, Taylor said that he hoped the review would “promote a national conversation” on how to achieve a flexible and fair economy that provides “opportunity, fairness and dignity”.

“We have a lot of research and policy to discuss but the most important part of our process is getting out and about to talk to businesses and workers across Britain about their experiences of modern work,” he added.

Taylor will be tasked with a balancing act ­– ensuring that gig economy workers of companies such as Uber and Deliveroo are sufficiently protected in the workplace, while also securing the benefits of the freelance model of employment.

The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE) has been quick to respond to the opening of the review, firmly putting itself in the corner of the majority of self-employed workers who enjoy their career choice.

In a statement, Simon McVicker, IPSE’s directory of policy, welcomed the opportunity that the review presented in providing “clarity” around the gig economy debate, but warned against compromising the interests of freelancers who “love what they do”.

“This way of working should remain a positive choice for individuals to make, and not risk being tarnished by a few unscrupulous companies,” McVicker said.

The popularity of the gig economy and self-employment in Britain as a whole show no signs of slowing. Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that between July and September 2016, an extra 213,000 people had registered as self-employed than the same period in 2015 – now accounting for over 15 per cent of the entire workforce.

Margot James, the government’s small business minister, declared in a statement that the review represented “a hugely important step towards us ensuring fairness for everyone in work”.

James added that although a flexible, modern workforce was of great benefit to the UK’s economy, safeguards must be introduced to protect vulnerable workers.

“It is also crucial that workers receive a decent wage and that people working in all sorts of jobs are able to benefit from the right balance of flexibility, rights, and protections,” she said.

The Taylor review into the gig economy may offer another clue as to the direction of the government’s forthcoming industrial strategy. It follows the recent opening of a green paper into reforming the way major companies operate, after May pledged to ensure worker and consumer representation on the boards of the UK’s biggest businesses.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Praseeda Nair is the editorial director of Business Advice, and its sister publication for growing businesses, Real Business. She's an impassioned advocate for women in leadership, and likes to profile business owners, advisors and experts in the field of entrepreneurship and management.

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