As part of PM Rishi Sunak’s Cabinet Reshuffle, Rt Hon Esther McVey was appointed as Minister without Portfolio in the Cabinet Office on 13 November 2023. Her working-class background could be just the influence the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer need to put the needs of the self-employed economy on the agenda. But will they listen to her common sense tactics?
The broadsheets are calling Esther McVey Rishi Sunak’s “Minister of Common Sense“. Her role? Reportedly to combat “wokery”.
Other reports say she could be up for Minister of State at the Cabinet Office. Could this MP with a broadcasting and entrepreneurial career streak be just what the self-employed workforce needs?
However, Sunak could be using McVey predominately as his blue-collar frontwoman when he doesn’t want to handle tough questions from the public and press. Something many of the UK’s self-employed witnessed when he chose to not support 3 million independent workers during the COVID crisis.
If McVey was in a position to speak on behalf of the PM and Sunak back then, would things have been different? Would she have brought him around to rethink his strategy? Would she have had the stomach to be the messenger to exclude all those self-employed workers?
GB News reported that McVey’s role will be to represent Rishi Sunak’s government on TV and radio as much as possible, with sources saying she has been appointed in an attempt to show the Government is committed to its “anti-woke” agenda.
McVey: the most Untory Tory?
McVey’s background is not exactly well, Tory. She did not sit at Oxford. She knows working-class people because she is one.
Wikipedia outlines her upbringing:
Born in Liverpool, McVey was raised in foster care for the first two years of her life and was then raised by her biological family. She was privately educated at the all-ability state-funded girls’ academy The Belvedere School before going on to study at Queen Mary University of London and City, University of London. She then put her hand to working at her family’s construction business before entering the media sector as a television presenter, co-presenting GMTV with Eamonn Holmes.
I was born in Liverpool and I’ve always lived up to all the stereotypes of being a Scouser – I love music, theatre, football, laughter, and a good night out – but then I became a Tory! I blame (Labour politician) Derek Hatton. That said, up until the 1950s, Liverpool returned more Conservative MPs than any other city. In 2010 I was returned as the first Conservative MP on Merseyside since 1997. Since 2017 I’ve been the MP for Tatton, Cheshire.Esther McVey, GBN
If McVey is appointed to Minister of State as some reports are saying, then this is what her responsibilities would include:
- lead on all Cabinet Office business in the Lords, including the Cabinet Office legislation programme in the Lords
- support the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on constitutional issues
- support Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on cross-cutting domestic and economic priorities
Having McVey in this role could mean she could have some influence over IR35 and intermediaries legislation. However, she will have a lot on her plate in the run-up to the General Election.
Will McVey clean up the umbrella sector for the sake of workers?
With the big fat eye sore that is IR35 infecting economic growth and propagating more wrongdoing in the unregulated umbrella industry, it’s no wonder those working and serving the freelancer economy are cynical about the Tory government improving matters for the self-employed come the Autumn budget.
Graham Webber, Director of Tax at WTT Consulting Ltd, is one such person who seems to have lost his faith of late.
In a LinkedIn post in response to a repost of a recent Freelance Informer article titled, Tax non-compliance in the umbrella market: isn’t it time the masquerade party came to an end? he says while the article is “absolutely correct”, he finds it unfortunate that the “government seems entirely uninterested in resolving the problem.”
He continues in his post, “Various suggestions have been made as to how this sector can clean up its act ranging from paying HMRC for a kite mark to having a standard set of documents and processes across all entities who wish to operate here. None of them are progressing.”
“So here’s an easier idea,” he suggests of the umbrella company sector:
HMRC has named and shamed a number of entities in this space. Why not make it an offence, punishable with a fine, for any person connected (director/owner) with a named entity, to be a director (real or shadow) with another entity operating as an umbrella/payroll bureau/contractor intermediary?Graham Webber, Director of Tax at WTT Consulting Ltd
Will the Autumn Budget even mention the self-employed?
Martin McTague, FSB’s National Chair is concerned that economic stabilisation could soon turn into stagnation for the UK’s small business and freelance communities. That is why he is calling for growth and common sense policies for the self-employed in the upcoming Autumn Budget.
Common sense policies such as the self-employed being permitted to claim training in new skills as a business expense.
He is also calling for the “archaic business rates system to be overhauled.”
He feels the 75 per cent business rates discount for small retail, hospitality and leisure firms should be renewed past March to give relief to small businesses in consumer-facing sectors.
“We must also take action to tackle those problems holding the future of the economy back – one of the most stark is that, at present, the self-employed are not allowed to claim training in new skills as a business expense,” says McTague.
“These kind of clear flaws in the tax system must be solved if we’re to meet the productivity challenge,” he says.
Now, wouldn’t it be grand if a new Minister of Common Sense could swoop in and make these wishes come true for the millions of self-employed workers in the UK? I think I will wait to hold my breath.
The FSB Chair says small firms are paying close attention to the stalls being set out by political parties as the next general election nears.
“Improving their operating environment will benefit the economy as a whole, as well as delivering political dividends,” he says.
Let’s just hope McVey, the blue-collar Conservative, will not only have the PM’s voice but his ear when it comes to common sense policies that get the self-employed workforce in a position of strength rather than stagnation.