In June last year I was asked by the Prime Minister to perform an independent review of self-employment in the UK. It was the busiest time of the year for us as we were starting the run-up to Christmas but I said yes, because this area is so important to me.
Doing the research, several things became apparent. One is that ‘self-employed’ captures such a diverse group. You have people starting their own businesses, but also farmers, construction workers, hairdressers, taxi drivers, artists and teachers on contracts. I was concerned that it would be difficult to come up with recommendations that would be relevant to everyone. But, in the end, the messages that came through were consistent.
Another was that once people had become self-employed, they weren’t looking to return to more conventional employed status. But they want recognition of the importance of self-employment, because although we are at record numbers, the number of jobs created as a result is far greater.
The need for greater equality was a common theme. The self-employed pay taxes and national insurance in the same way that employed people do, but they’re not treated equally when it comes to issues such as maternity pay or adoption pay. To get that equality would be a massive step forward. I have spoken to the Treasury, and it is completely affordable.
There are other ways in which the Government could help the self-employed. Some people mentioned they miss the camaraderie in a larger business, so we need to create more work hubs where people can band together and form those networks.
Many people also felt they would have benefited from an education system that helped prepare them to work for themselves. If people learn about cash flow, profit-and-loss accounts and balance sheets while at school, that would not only benefit the 15 per cent who become self-employed but also give a better grounding for those who go on to more conventional employed status.
For my own part, my dad was self-employed, and I’m proud to count myself as one of this group. But running a business is not easy. I accepted funding from a private equity firm three years ago for a minority stake, but I didn’t want funding in the early stages because I didn’t want someone else’s agenda. Doing as much as you can with your own funding means you stay in control, so keep your overheads low until you can see where you need help.
I’d also advise people to make sure they’re protected on the legal side, particularly in arrangements with manufacturers, even if it’s just generic advice from organisations such as UKTI.
My review of self-employment has been delivered to Number 10, and I’m looking to follow up the conversation. I have meetings lined up with the Business Secretary of State, Sajid Javid. I think there’s a good chance that some of these recommendations will be picked up and carried out. Anything that can help make life easier for the self-employed, and encourage others into taking that decision, can only be good for entrepreneurs and the wider economy.
Julie Deane OBE is founder and chief executive of the Cambridge Satchel Company.