On Wednesday I published part 1 of this blog. I’ve bravely requested questions from colleagues Mel and Kathryn, and promised to answer them as best I can. Part 2 follows below:
What do you have planned for year 3?
Expansion. Me, Kathryn and Mel have formed a great unit, and the structure, process and functioning of the business is exactly how I imagined it to be when I was planning Melber Flinn a few years ago. And I have discussed this with Mel and Kathryn – we could stay as we are and continue being successful, but there is a limit to how big the company would get from a turnover perspective. I need to professionally challenge myself, and growth should help build the resilience of the business particularly if (God forbid) Kathryn or Mel should ever decide to leave. So we hope to hire certainly 1, but hopefully 2 more people in our third year.
Have you been surprised by the impact of IR35 this year?
Yes and no. We’ve known since November 2016 that it was coming, I think the whole industry was in the dark too late about how it would be practically applied. The publication of the test and associated guidance was late in coming, and I remember even in March, candidates still speculating that the legislative change would be postponed or abandoned. I’ve been surprised that demand doesn’t seem to have been too badly affected. I really didn’t have high hopes for 2017, I thought it would be a year for toughing it out and getting by. We had a meeting in January where I talked to Kathryn and Mel about the financial position of the business, and we plotted some worst case scenarios in terms of cashflow and the minimum business levels we would need to keep going. Thankfully, its never got close to that bad, and against all our expectations, we saw a 30% uplift in new roles in April/May/June compared to Jan/Feb/March. The composition of work has changed, and we have been placing candidates in scope, out of scope, on outputs based contracts, on day rates on trust banks and on fixed term contracts. Having those contractual discussions with clients lengthens the recruitment process, but you can act in more of an advisory capacity to support clients. We had made 1 more placement year to date at the end of June 2017 compared to June 2016, but our interim numbers have dropped. That’s because for more of our placements, we’re charging one off fees instead of margin on day rate, and those fees are compensating for the drop in fees associated with our day rate interim numbers.
If you asked your children what is Daddy’s job what would they say:
I asked them independently so they couldn’t influence one another’s answers
Finn (aged 9): “You get people jobs”
Flo (aged 6): “You work in your office, doing work on your laptop.” (Me: Can you remember, is it something to do with hospitals?) Flo: “Oh, you call people in hospitals and look after people”
Given the added benefit of being able to spend more time each week with the hilarious Kathryn and Mel, would you consider opening an office?
Its not on the horizon yet! We are all networked up on cloud based systems, and of course WhatsApp is one of our main communication tools. I’m honestly not seeing the benefit at all yet of an office. Mel was most wary of not having an office to go to, but I think even she now sees the benefit of walking upstairs to work and staying in your pajamas all day. I know another consultancy business that had a virtual / home based model until they hit 60 people and it worked well for them. I recognise some of the benefits of working in the same space together, but frankly for Melber Flinn I don’t think they come close to outweighing the benefits we all enjoy of home working.
How many cans of Monster have you consumed since starting Melber Flinn?
Ouch! I know this is a terrible habit, but in my defence its my only real vice, I don’t drink tea and coffee. It’s probably an average of 1.5 cans a day, so over 5 working days a week and two years, its going to be around 660. Do you think Monster might sponsor Melber Flinn?
How would you describe your current work / life balance?
Very good! I think home working plays a really big part, I’m generally on the road 2 days a week, but when Im not, I see Mary and the kids every morning and evening. Not commuting gives me an extra hour in my day. Im very passionate about Melber Flinn, but life is for living and I don’t want to put things off in life because Im too busy working. Working for yourself also gives that flexibility to take holidays away from holiday day entitlements, or to go and see school sports days. You always have to keep an eye on the balance, but good planning and organisation helps, and Mel and Kathryn make sure Im out seeing clients and candidates when I need to be, but that also the workload of the company is well distributed between us.
Do you struggle to fit in work around your holidays?
Ok I see a theme here. Kathryn also recently emailed me to say that instead of keeping a holiday diary of when I was out she would keep a work diary of when I planned to be in!? I am definitely going on more holidays whilst at Melber Flinn, but as per above life is for living and its nice to plan holidays without worrying about entitlements or whether they overlap with colleagues. And whilst it is nice to be away, I never truly switch off – the mobile and laptop are never far away.
Pick your favourite moment from year 2:
1) Mel Brown joining the business
2) Kathryn Kitson attaining Platinum Standard in the Health Trust Europe Audit
3) An evening in the hot tub with one of your favourite clients
This is easy, 2 out of 3 answers will alienate a colleague, 1 out of 3 will compliment a client. Answer = hot tub night.
Would you rather be attacked by a massive badger of a gang of angry squirrels?
Squirrels. Badgers have pretty big claws for digging. I think they could do some serious damage. I’d hope you could at least pluck the squirrels off you and throw them away.
Which dead celebrity would you like to have dinner with?
Kim Jong il. I have a mild obsession with North Korea. He was in a warped position of power – propped up by a state that needed a figurehead for communism, and yet he knew it was failing despite the country’s propaganda to its citizens about how well it was doing.
I feel exhausted. I think next year (provided we make it to our third anniversary) I will ask candidates and clients to set the questions, I hope they will be kinder.
August 7th 2017 saw the second anniversary of Melber Flinn. It’s a well-worn cliché, but time really has flown, I can’t quite believe it’s been two years already. Last year I marked the first anniversary by doing a mock interview with Kathryn and Rachel suggesting the questions. Against my better judgement, I decided to follow the same format this year, with my two colleagues Mel and Kathryn again setting the questions. “Ask anything you want, and I will answer truthfully” I said to them, knowing that whilst risky, it should make for an interesting blog. They attacked the task with gusto, sending me a long list of questions, with Mel’s husband Nick chipping in with a few extra. True to my word I’ve answered them all and divided the responses into a two parter, with the second part of the blog to follow next week. Deep breath, here goes…
What is your motivation?
This is a really tough one, its partly about being the best I can be at what I have chosen to do, but then frankly, its also about hopefully about creating a successful business which gives me financial independence and life options. I want to have the option to retire early and explore other ventures in life. We’re only here once.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given since setting up the business?
This is a great question, but I can’t honestly think of that single nugget that has stayed with me. I remember an old recruitment colleague of mine, who also set up his own business, telling me that if I backed myself I needed to go for it, and not think about getting other partners involved. And Im glad I took that decision, it ramped up the risk, but having full ownership of Melber Flinn has meant full control and I have not had to worry about being distracted by the interests or differing views of other shareholders.
What makes Melber Flinn different to other agencies?
Recruitment is recruitment, ultimately we provide people to fill gaps or solve problems. That’s what every interim agency does and it annoys me that some of them dress it up as something different. “Human capital solutions” is one of my pet hate phrases in the industry. So we’re proud to be a recruitment business and hopefully what makes us different is the customer experience, the values are about being honest, straightforward and transparent. I want every client and candidate to feel like we are on their side, advising objectively, and not serving our own agenda.
What have you enjoyed blogging about more, IR35 or marathons.
One is something I am extremely passionate about, I think about it all the time. But on the other hand I do like running too.
Approximately how many miles have you run during work hours in the last two years?
Ha ha! Not enough! In my defence, my work day usually starts at 6am, Im at my best in the mornings and if I get 1.5 hours done by 7.30am, I don’t feel guilty about going for a run later in the work day. And the run tends to be my lunchbreak! In terms of a specific number, I think on an average of 50 miles a week, with an average 6 miles a day on week days, the answer is probably around 3000 miles.
What is your biggest regret over the past 12 months?
Not moving invoice finance providers earlier. My accountant pointed out how much they were costing me and I was flabbergasted. They weren’t sending me monthly invoices, instead, they took their fees by stealth from my funding availability, and so their costs weren’t as visible to me as our other suppliers. I then dithered over switching, thinking it would be a big hassle and their customer service might improve, but if anything it got worse. We’ve made the move now and so far Im happy with the new provider.
What has been the longest journey you have driven to visit a client? Was it worth it?
Dorset, and we will see! Im happy to travel anywhere, sometimes people supposed our main business base is Yorkshire, but we actually do relatively little locally. Because most interims will travel, and because we have a nationally dispersed client base in the NHS, you have to be ambivalent about geography and be willing to business anywhere.
What is your favourite work lunch?
Usually at lunchtime Im good, because I will grab something out of the fridge in my office, ideally chicken or prawns. Its dinner time where my discipline falls apart!
What would your super hero powers be?
Teleportation every time.
Check back on Friday for part 2, featuring IR35, hot tubs, and angry squirrels.
By way of an introduction my name is Mellissa Brown. I joined Melber Flinn in November 2016 as a Resourcing Consultant. My role here is to support Steve manage his candidate network through maintaining relationships with existing interims, building relationships with interims unknown to our business and sourcing the best candidates for live roles. I am no substitute for Mr Melber; he still actively participates in all of the above duties. However, as the business continues to grow – despite operating in an extremely difficult environment, I partner with Steve to ensure we continue to provide a first-class candidate experience to our interim community.
The good news is that 6 months in I am still here. And last week Steve even added my profile to the website. Thankfully the speed at which he recruits is a lot faster and efficient. To mark my work anniversary and introduction on the website I thought now would be a good time to write my first blog. And what better subject than evaluating my first 6 months recruiting in the NHS.
It will not surprise you to hear discussions around the changes to IR35 status have dominated conversations pre and post its application. When I first joined, it felt there was a quiet optimism that these changes might disappear and this would all be a horrid dream. Fast forward to April where the dream has become reality. In reaction to these changes it appears many organisations have chosen the risk adverse approach; making a blanket decision to classify all existing interims as in-scope of IR35. During this uncertain time many interims have accepted the change and are sitting tight, delivering what was asked of them and hoping the storm will have settled down by the time they are seeking their next position. For those who find themselves available and seeking their next role many are holding out for an out of scope contract. Interestingly over the past 8 weeks, of all new roles Melber Flinn have been asked to recruit only 15% have been classified as out of scope. 35% have been considered in-scope. 5% have been fixed term contracts. The interesting part is since April 45% of new roles at Melber Flinn came to market with no assessment having been made. This has led to a two staged recruitment process where we have had to present candidates no matter what the determination of scope is and then latterly revisited this dependent on the outcome. I am sure this is a bone of contention for you as interims as much as us the agent representing you.
Of course we are only 8 weeks into the changes. And we had a breakthrough last week with revised NHSI guidance on 31st May, stating that organisations should not be applying blanket approaches, and instead assess off payroll workers and pieces of work on a case by case basis. Steve is set to blog about this soon, but we hope organisations will be having better internal conversations so that roles are pre-assessed when they come to the market. We all know the advantages this will bring in saving time for all parties involved.
Regardless of these legislative changes and the tough market conditions we operate in I have really enjoyed supporting the NHS. This is my first time recruiting in the sector having previously developed my interim networks in FMCG and Financial Services. I must admit I was a little nervous about the move from private sector to public sector. There can be a lot of stigma around public sector candidates and the slow pace of change in this market place. Needless to say, I have been pleasantly surprised. Steve has built up an enviable network of interim executives who lead turnarounds and deliver change across all directorates. The challenges these interims face in this sector are unprecedented. Of the conversations had I have been impressed with candidate’s professional background, drive, energy and passion to make a difference.
For me the subject matter has been fascinating. We all have a vested interested in the NHS, so getting closer to it; understanding the mechanics of how it operates, where the troubles lie, hearing the success stories from people at the heart of the institution who are driving forward change has been a real highlight for me. Working with candidates who directly affect people’s lives instead of the P&L’s of huge corporations is refreshing.
So my hopes for the next 6 months at Melber Flinn. Continue with my learning on the sector. To develop more relationships with the interim community in the NHS. Provide an outstanding customer service to you all. And for us all to have a summer filled with long sunny days! Happy days.
If you are an interim healthcare professional and we have not yet spoken then please get in contact. I am available for confidential discussions on 07375 372379 or email@example.com
About four weeks ago my not so new colleague Mel offered to write a blog for Melber Flinn, which of course I was delighted about as it meant I wouldn’t have to bore our network with another IR35 or marathon blog. She wanted to write about her experiences so far at Melber Flinn which I thought was a great idea, but in true Melber Flinn blog tradition I thought this could be a two parter, and I had best write the prequel to tell you how she came to be here in the first place.
Mel and I worked together at Interim Partners for 5 years, and most of that time we sat on the same pod in Harrogate, with me covering health and her working on consumer and then latterly financial services. So professionally there was very little overlap but nevertheless we formed a good friendship. Mel is a great recruiter, and I could see that we operated with similar outlooks and ideals. She was extremely hardworking, often working late into the evenings or coming into the office on a weekend if she had to meet a tight deadline, or to generally catch up on workload. She also operates with a conscience, not a common character trait in our industry, but a strong sense of conscience usually indicates strong self awareness, and behaviourally it means that most of the time, you’re doing the right thing, even if it might not be the most profitable thing.
On setting up Melber Flinn I always had a role for Mel in the back of my mind, but had no idea whether she would be interested in joining me. She took maternity leave in November 2015, and in the summer of 2016 I approached her to see if she was firmly planning to go back or whether she might be open to other offers. Luckily she was receptive to the conversation, and crucially I was able to offer her the flexibility she needed, in terms of working from home, and also working part time so that she still had a full 4 days a week with her son Otis. So in November 2016, Mel joined Melber Flinn, increasing our headcount 50% from 2 to 3.
So what exactly is it that Mel does? She has a varied and broad remit, which is mainly focused on the candidate side of our network. Most importantly she oversees management of the candidate network. That basically means we are keeping in touch with people, and we know where they are working, what they are doing and when they are available. She also helps forward plan my diary, ensuring that we maintain both client and candidate relationships and that I am on the road at least 2 if not 3 days a week to meet people. As an extension to this function, Mel also provides the cover back at base, not only is she getting me out of the office to do the business development, she allows me to do it by covering back at base. So if I am on the road for the day and a new requirement comes through in the morning, Mel can be running searches and sourcing candidate options. This is a welcome contrast to the first year, where I had an ongoing struggle to manage the balance between road time and desk time, we lost more than one job because I simply wouldn’t be in the office to react fast enough and by the time I did respond the next day to a client, we had lost ground to competitors.
And how is she doing? Very well. We both worried a little about her transition into health but she took it in her stride, is getting fully conversant and knows her CQUINS from her CQC! The system we have is effective and it is working and Im really optimistic for the future. But most importantly Mel is a great colleague, she works hard and importantly she challenges me, even to the point of introducing quarterly performance reviews where I have to account for my activity and results. Her banter is average, but with help from me and Kathryn, it should slowly improve over time.
On Saturday 23rd April the Melber family headed down to London, I’d like to think this was for a family weekend, but the reality is that it was principally for the marathon, with some family activities added to the itinerary to assuage my guilt. We hit Hamleys on the Saturday afternoon, then gorged on pizza for the carbs, before taking in a show at the theatre in the evening.
This month’s IR35 blog features an in-depth analysis… not really. It really is all about running marathons.
In part 1 of my latest IR35 blog on Friday I covered some analysis of questions in the new IR35 test and also discussed how clients have reacted defensively to their new assessment responsibilities, as they scramble to properly understand IR35.
No sooner had HMRC published the long awaited IR35 assessment tool, called the Employment Status Service on 2nd March, I was inundated with texts and emails from interims who were testing themselves and joyfully declaring out of scope results. Certainly my initials thoughts were ones of relief, as the test seemed to be far more lenient that the initial test version I had seen in December, which had 55 questions, and the worrying initial 12 question section which seemed to be trying to catch anyone with a greater than 5% share in their limited company – i.e. everyone.
Over Christmas a candidate kindly sent me a copy of HMRC’s prototype assessment model, intended to be used by public sector organisations from April 2017 to assess the IR35 status of off payroll workers. We’re 10 weeks away from implementation and worryingly there is no sign of a release date for the final version yet, I emailed HMRC on 4th January asking for confirmation of the planned publication date of the test but have had no response.
The technical guidance to support the change in IR35 legislation was released on 5th December and can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/off-payroll-working-in-the-public-sector-reform-of-the-intermediaries-legislation-technical-note/off-payroll-working-in-the-public-sector-reform-of-the-intermediaries-legislation-technical-note#treasury-procurement-rules-for-public-appointees
Its happening. The IR35 changes announced in the Budget statement in March have come to pass and will be implemented from April 2017. Responsibility for determining IR35 status will shift from the candidate to the intermediary or the client. In one sense no one can complain, its simply the closing of a loop hole which has been exploited on a widespread basis since IR35 legislation was passed in 1999.
NHSI sent out its latest letter to provider CEOs, Chairs and DoFs on 17th October urging them to do more to curb spending on temporary resource, and outlining new measures and controls to restrict how interims are hired.
That is not an allegorical title and this blog contains no information or comment on NHS interim management. It is an entirely self indulgent and lengthy piece on running marathons. So if you’d prefer not to read on I’d quite understand.
Medical locum agencies were struck a blow last week as Jeremy Hunt announced plans to invest in training 1500 more doctors a year. This represents a 25% increase in the number of funded medical school places and potentially addresses two issues, firstly it reduces UK reliance on foreign doctors when post Brexit it might become more difficult to import them, and long term a larger complement of permanent NHS doctors reduces the need for high cost locums.
In July, NHSE and NHSI co-authored a financial reset document, outlining instructions to all NHS organisations on the actions they must take to help stave off the worsening financial positon of the system. Within the document were specific new rules targeted at CCGs and CSUs which require organisations to seek ever increasing levels of permission from NHSE to appoint interim managers above certain day rates.
August 7th marks exactly one year since Melber Flinn was incorporated. To commemorate the occasion, I thought I would write a blog, but in a mock interview style. So below are some questions to which I thought people might like to know the answers. I’ve also included answers to some suggested questions from Kathryn and Rachel.
Back in May I published a blog about expanding the headcount at Melber Flinn and the important addition of Kathryn to support me with the administration of the business. But I am also delighted to have Rachel Silverwood aboard.
In my last blog I wrote about a recent HSJ article, which cited a fourfold increase in the number of requests by trusts to engage off payroll executives. A couple of people had emailed me since asking me about part of my comment for the article, that day rates may increase after next April.
I was quoted in the HSJ this week (http://www.hsj.co.uk/topics/workforce/spike-in-demand-for-off-payroll-interim-trust-executives/7005064.article?blocktitle=Snews&contentID=20377) in a story that covered an increase in requests made to the TDA by trusts for permission to appoint off payroll interim executives. My contribution in the finished article was brief, and I thought I would use my blog to elaborate on my thoughts.
Earlier in my recruitment career I had a go at management, but I soon realised I wasn’t very good at it. I got frustrated when people didn’t follow instructions and do things the way I wanted them doing, and I have a natural aversion to confrontation, which stunted my ability to pull people into line. But inevitably as I look to grow Melber Flinn, I might have to dust off and develop those skills.
George Osbourne yesterday announced an intended clampdown on the engagement of personal service companies by the public sector. The new measures will be out to consultation but if introduced they will represent some big changes to way in which the market operates. On page 98 of the full 168 page budget document, point 2.40 states: “From April 2017 the government will make public sector bodies and agencies responsible for operating the tax rules that apply to off-payroll working through limited companies in the public sector.
In part one of my recent blog I talked about the latest letter from Jim Mackey and the looming implementation of price cap guidance. In the ten days or so that have passed since writing part 1, I’ve had my own first hand experience of a client holding the line. I had introduced two operational managers, for three vacant roles, and had submitted both to the client at market rates.
Jim Mackey, the new Chief Executive of NHS Improvement wrote to all NHS providers last Friday 18th February to advise that as of April 1st all trusts in scope of the agency rules use approved frameworks for the procurement of all agency staff. I will blog separately about my own framework status, but the interesting point for me in the correspondence was the additional guidance for framework operators.
I saw a great post on LinkedIn in December by a chap called Paul Burton. Link is here:
Earlier in the week I blogged about using an invoice financing company to cashflow my interims, and the expectation from the company that I am beginning to develop some basic corporate infrastructure including management accounts. With my retrospective accounts now built, hopefully it becomes a maintenance job, and actually the maintenance is less labour intensive than I anticipated, because of great products like Xero, which automatically generates invoices and Receipt Bank, which scans receipts and extracts the data to build your expenses claims – no more envelopes bulging with receipts to process!
I spoke to my invoice finance company last week and they politely notified me I am going to exceed my funding limits next month. Apparently, I’m one of their fastest growing clients. For the uninitiated, invoice financing companies give you a certain percentage of the value of your client invoice. So if I place Joe Bloggs at Springfield NHS Trust, charge 1000 / day, and raise my first invoice for 5000 at the end of week 1, the invoice company gives me 90%, or 4500, which of course I use to pay my interim.
On Wednesday I wrote about an interim who had recently started an interim GM role on an NHS trust bank. Below I have provided the analysis on the income and benefits differentials of a bank vs limited company arrangement, which may help candidates to have a more amenable view on what has previously been a contractual route to be avoided at all costs.
I recently met a candidate who had just started an interim General Manager role with an acute FT, on the trust’s bank. In my 5.5 years as an interim healthcare recruiter, this is the first example I have found, but I wonder whether it will become more commonplace? I asked the candidate how the arrangement came about.
Consider the following statements from a recent report about NHS price cap guidance:
“Proposed price caps could deliver savings… of £370 million under a 55% cap. It is important to note that there is a significant margin of error around these estimates.”
It has been three weeks since NHS price cap guidance came out and in that time I have taken briefs on 6 new interim requirements. Three of the clients have not mentioned the guidance at all and we have entered into a recruitment process at market rate. One client said they absolutely had to have someone for a start on 16th November and they weren’t going to narrow my search further by giving me a depressed budget. Client five said we’d have to be aware of it, but there would be “plenty of ways around it” and perhaps we could write 60 hour weeks into the contract to optimise the rate for the candidate. It would up to the client to then manage the timesheets on that one.
It’s easy to develop a sense of victimisation with NHS price cap guidance. Interim is our world and we’re immersed in it, but the guidance was written primarily for agency nursing and medical locums.
I met a HR Director earlier this week who said “the problem with the new price cap guidance is that its success is predicated on all NHS organisations acting in unison, when in fact we are all inherently competitive and we all want to attract the best talent to our organisations.” And therein lies the problem on both sides of the market. We have a looming strike scenario with the potential implementation of price caps for interims, any NHS organisation willing to override the guidelines and pay market rate for an interim, because they are a performing FT (unlikely) or just desperate for resource (far more likely) will distort the market. Candidates will come to learn that there are two types of clients, those that will pay market rate and those that won’t, and they will be more inclined to hold out for those that do, whilst those clients that don’t might soon be learning the hard way that you get what you pay for.