There are unseen costs of being freelance. says consultant Paddy McNulty

Museums urged to value freelance staff

Rob Sharp, Issue 118/11, p13, 01.11.2018
Institutions should offer freelancers professional development and appropriate remuneration, and pay them on time. By Rob Sharp
Freelancers have called on institutions to pay greater heed to their responsibilities regarding professional development, payment and tax, as the importance of flexible employment in the museum sector rises.

They have raised concerns that any museum seeking freelance expertise should set pay at appropriate levels, pay on time, and respect the existence of additional costs footed by freelance workers.

Marge Ainsley, a freelance cultural consultant, facilitator and trainer, highlights her wish to see freelancers being offered the same professional development opportunities as staff museum employees.

“Over the past 10 years, I’ve worked with some really supportive museums, which value the contribution that freelancers are making,” she says. “But there’s still lots we can do. We can’t expect museums to automatically know the best approach to use, especially those that are less experienced in working with freelancers.

"That’s why I support volunteer-run organisations such as the Museum Freelance Network and its freelance community, which are taking a proactive, positive approach by running best-practice workshops, and working collaboratively with other organisations to build mutually supportive opportunities.”

Museum development programme Share Museums East’s guide to working with freelancers features best-practice guidelines regarding tax requirements, interviewing and setting appropriate briefs. It cites common day rates for those working in museums as £200 to £500 per day.

One of the main issues for freelancers is getting paid on time, as delays cause problems with cashflow.

Greater awareness

“Understanding the impact on freelancers’ and small businesses’ cashflow when projects or payments are delayed needs greater awareness,” says Ainsley.
Consultant Paddy McNulty highlights the unseen costs of being freelance, including insurance, equipment, accommodation and travel.

“Payment schedules, or delayed payments, can have an impact on freelance consultants’ cashflow,” he says. “Additionally, museums sometime lack understanding of the relevant legislation, for example IR35 [legislation introduced in 2000 to prevent workers claiming to be contractors for tax benefits], and can open themselves, and freelance consultants, up to liabilities from HMRC.”

Freelance museum writer Rebecca Mileham suggests freelancers are uniquely positioned to assume control of their own careers, take chances and create change.
She adds that museums can also benefit from finding a good balance between the strengths of in-house teams and freelance workers.

“One issue of a sector experiencing a lot of squeezes is that learning from each project isn’t necessarily embedded into an organisation,” says Mileham.

“However, steps should be made so the experience an organisation develops somehow gets embedded, and doesn’t just move on at the end of a project.”