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27.02.2017
ClearSky Contractor Accounting has received Platinum ACCA Approved Employer status
Optionis Group company, ClearSky Contractor Accounting, has been awarded Platinum ACCA Approved Employer status due to its high quality of commitment and support to accountancy trainees.

The platinum award is the highest level awarded by ACCA, the global body for professional accountants. The award is as a direct result of the firm’s unrivalled on-site training facilities, support to those in training and commitment to investing in good talent.

Alongside this, ClearSky Contractor Accounting also holds the ACCA Approved Employer awards for Professional Development and Practising Certificate Development.

With over 34 new hires working under ClearSky Accounting at the latter part of 2016 and more intake planned for this year, this comes as great news for those accountants who have chosen to begin or further their career at the company.

“It is incredibly important to us to ensure we provide a high level of service to our clients, and we aim to match this with our company growth and the investment in our people. We’re incredibly proud of the opportunities and support we give our accountants, so we couldn’t be happier to have received platinum ACCA Approved Employer status by the ACCA.” – Derek Kelly, CEO of Optionis
10.01.2017
Sovereign backed Arkarius joins forces with Optionis

Sovereign Capital, the UK private equity Buy & Build specialist, is pleased to announce that portfolio company Arkarius Group, the UK’s largest group providing accounting services to the flexible workforce, has joined forces with Optionis, the largest employee solutions operator in the UK. The combined Group, which will operate under the Optionis brand, is four times larger than any other competitor in the UK but still with less than 10% combined market share.

Sovereign originally backed the simultaneous investments of SJD Accountancy and Nixon Williams in a transaction worth £100m in September 2014 (creating the Arkarius Group) and since then, the group has delivered strong organic growth. Founded in 2000, Optionis provides accounting, payroll, tax and professional employment solutions to the flexible workforce through a multi-brand strategy which includes ClearSky Contractor Accounting, Parasol, ClearSky Business and Brian Alfred.

The combined group, which has c.40,000 clients, will address all channels to market and enable a more diversified service offering across its national network of offices. The businesses will continue to operate under their respective brands within the Optionis Group structure, receiving the investment and support to further develop their offering.

Optionis Founder and Group Managing Director Derek Kelly will become Group CEO and Simon Curry, Arkarius CEO becomes Group Operations (SJD & Nixon Williams) with additional responsibility for the integration plan.  Jeremy Newman the chairman of Arkarius, formerly the CEO of BDO International and the Managing Partner of BDO UK, will be chairman of the enhanced group.

Jeremy Morgan, Partner, Sovereign Capital commented, “We are delighted to be bringing together these two market leading groups which will enhance the growth opportunity of the underlying businesses in this highly fragmented market. This is a first class management team with a strong track record in the market and we look forward to working with them as the enhanced Group develops.”

Derek Kelly, Chief Executive, Optionis said, “Bringing these two groups together will produce a player of exceptional scale and capability in the market ensuring that contractors and agencies experience an unparalleled level of service.  I am extremely proud and excited to be leading the combined group.”
Debt to support the transaction was provided by Alcentra.

02.12.2016
The sky’s the limit for ClearSky Contractor Accounting

The number of new hires within Warrington based company, ClearSky Contractor Accounting, is soaring due to the company experiencing record growth.

ClearSky Contractor Accounting, a division of the Optionis Group, has experienced growth of over 30% in new clients over the last year. This has lead to an influx of new appointments within the company to support the growth, with 34 new starters joining the ClearSky team in the past three months alone. A selection of these new hires includes Andrea Millington, Sales Operations Manager who joins from Brookson and Julia Greenhall, Jane Ellis and Zahid Iqbal who are all Personal Accountants. 24 new apprentices have also joined the ClearSky team.

“The growth we’ve experienced and the employment opportunities this has opened up has been a real positive for the group. We’ve been able to hire some really talented local people across all departments including accounting, sales, marketing and our apprentice scheme. Having key roles filled by joiners at all levels and attracting some who have come from competitors is a real testament to the growth we’re experiencing and our reputation within the industry.” Derek Kelly, Group Managing Director of Optionis.

The recruitment drive comes at a time when ClearSky also recently launched a partnership with iCount Training to provide ACCA accredited onsite training for all eligible staff. This is in addition to the AAT training already provided by Learning Curve Group in Optionis’ training hub.

It doesn’t look like the growth at ClearSky will be slowing any time soon, as there is further investment in training and development across the Optionis Group planned. Over the next year the company hopes to continue this growth and hire more new team members from the local area.

10.10.2016
Optionis employs Manchester-based iCount as onsite accountancy training provider

Professional business services provider Optionis announces a three-year deal with iCount Training to provide training support and services.

The agreement ensures iCount will provide ACCA accredited onsite training for any staff that qualifies, starting with a group of new trainee accountants who enrolled in September.

iCount Training, based in Manchester, brings a unique offering to Optionis’ continuous professional development needs. Offering tailored ACCA-accredited accountancy training service, iCount offers employees the chance to study on site at the Optionis training facility in Warrington without having to incur further travel costs and time frustrations. iCount tutors will provide Optionis employees with out of hours contact availability as well. The majority of training time will take place during normal office hours, which should ease the time pressures on personal time and maximise the chances of passing exams at the first attempt.

The partnership also provides a natural progression for apprentices who have their AAT accountancy training provided onsite to then carry on to the professional qualifications of the ACCA with iCount.

“The main reason I choose to partner with iCount, apart from their market leading pass rate, was their genuine desire to help and support our team members,” says Elaine Kelly, Head of Practice Solutions for Optionis. “This is the next step, since launching our AAT apprentice Academy, to ensure all our employees have the best opportunity to grow and that we can support them every step of the way.”

Because iCount is a North West based company, the trainers’ convenient location to Warrington presents a win-win for both Optionis and its employees.

“The programme we are delivering for Optionis is unique as it is on site for employees and therefore eliminates the hassles of travelling to college,” says Darren Hodgson, Partner and co-founder of iCount Training. “The Optionis training facility is perfect; bright, spacious and most importantly comfortable. We take great pride in being a local, highly experience, Manchester-based accountancy training organisation and we are very pleased to be working so closely with Optionis on this programme.”

Drawing from her personal experience as an accountant, Elaine feels the convenience of the new training facility is a plus for career development and recruitment.

“After finishing my degree, little did I know that I would be training for my ACCA qualification for the next four years,” says Elaine. “If my employer had a dedicated training facility onsite, best in class, qualified lecturers and given me the support that Optionis will provide; then I am certain my ACCA exams would have felt a lot less painful. ”I am really pleased to be launching our Optionis ACCA Academy and for iCount to be our training partner of choice.”


ABOUT OPTIONIS GROUP: Optionis Group is a professional services group specialising in managing tax, employment, accountancy and legislative compliance. The group provides a range of market leading solutions to the UK’s small businesses and professional contingent workforce sectors. Their professional services brands include ClearSky Contractor Accounting, ClearSky Business, Brian Alfred & Arnsco, and Parasol as a professional employment solution provider. For more information on the Optionis group, please visit www.optionis.co.uk.

ABOUT iCOUNT TRAINING: iCount is an ACCA Platinum Approved Learning Partner. Founded in 2010 by senior and enthusiastic tutors cultivated through years of experience working with accountancy training leading providers, iCount strives to deliver first class tuition, providing full out-of-hours support and personal marking of all progress tests and course exams. iCount has established strong working partnerships with many of the North West’s leading employers in the financial sector, many of whom use iCount exclusively for all their exam and non-exam financial training requirements.

Full details of all our courses including dates and prices can be obtained from the team by calling 0161 228 6564 or by emailing study@icounttraining.com.

14.09.2016
Brian Alfred marketing campaign shortlisted for Northern Marketing Awards 2016

Tax rebate company’s “Nice one, Brian!” promotion named NMA 2016 finalist nomination for Professional/Financial Services campaign

Tax rebate company Brian Alfred is shortlisted in the Northern Marketing Awards 2016 for their “Nice one, Brian!2 campaign.

Brian Alfred, part of the Optionis Group, Warrington, saw the ongoing brand awareness campaign earn one of eight nominations in the category of Best Professional/Financial Services Campaign this week. As part of Optionis’ ongoing work in updating the Brian Alfred brand, the “Nice one, Brian!” campaign has engaged CIS and PAYE construction workers to deliver a 24-hour tax rebate service. The campaign was activated across SMS, social media, digital, PPC and outdoor advertising, earning the nod as a certified NMA 2016 finalist.

The campaign’s overall success can be traced to measurable KPI performance, with campaign targets like revenue, ROI, total leads, web traffic, and Facebook followers growing significantly throughout the campaign.

“The ‘Nice one, Brian!’ campaign was structured around a larger Brian Alfred re-branding project, which focused more on a fresh, humorous and personable look and feel,” says James Lawton-Hill, marketing director for Optionis. “As a result of the campaign, we’ve generated more leads as a result that we’ve been able to convert, and our web traffic has quadrupled.”

Prolific North hosts the awards dinner, scheduled for 19 October at the Hilton Deansgate, Manchester.


ABOUT OPTIONIS GROUP:Optionis Group is a professional services group specialising in managing tax, employment, accountancy and legislative compliance. The group provides a range of market leading solutions to the UK’s small businesses and professional contingent workforce sectors. Their brands include Parasol and ClearSky Contractor Accounting in workforce management, and ClearSky Business, Brian Alfred & Arnsco in SME. For more information on the Optionis group, please visit www.optionis.co.uk.

ABOUT BRIAN ALFRED: Brian Alfred is one of the UK’s leading tax rebate specialists, taking particular satisfaction in helping people get their tax rebate real quick. Offering a simple, safe and secure process, Brian Alfred works with thousands of construction workers and mechanics to secure tax rebates. To learn more about Brian Alfred, please visit www.brianalfred.co.uk.

02.09.2016
Parasol announces first ever young contractor of year

Shining a spotlight on young contractors around the UK, Parasol announced IT professional Lauren Farmer as the winner of its inaugural Young Contractor of the Year Awards on Wednesday 18th August.

The YoCo (an abbreviation of ‘Young Contractor’) Awards are a national competition recently created for millennials between the ages of 16-34. It celebrates those who have opted to pursue contracting and freelancing in search of greater professional freedom, whilst shunning the traditional nine to five.

Entrants were asked to submit a short 100-word summary of their career, outlining key achievements to date; Parasol then selected four impressive finalists and put the award’s fate to a public vote. Rotherham local Lauren, 27, rose to the top as the public’s favourite and scooped the £500 cash prize, owing to a strong family focused WorkStyle.

The self-taught IT Support Analyst was made redundant two weeks before learning she was pregnant with her second child. She chose to re-evaluate her career during an extended maternity leave, ultimately deciding to embark on a career in contracting.

“I started contracting in November 2015,” Lauren explained in her award-winning essay. “I was worried that I would be spending all my time at work away from my children with no reward at the end of it. Thanks to contracting, I couldn’t have been further from the truth. I have even managed to take my daughters to Disneyworld, all thanks to becoming a contractor.”

James Lawton-Hill, marketing director of Parasol, said: “Getting started in the contracting world can be pretty daunting for most, but to take the leap after a two-year maternity break is truly commendable and Lauren should be extremely proud of her achievement. Her WorkStyle should act as a positive example for any working parent who’d like flexibility and the chance to enjoy more time with their family or young children.

“I’d also like to thank all participants for helping to make our first annual Awards so successful. We’ve really enjoyed reading through the submissions and it’s great to learn that so many millennial contractors are taking their career by the reigns, steering themselves into a better future with a rewarding WorkStyle.”

For more information about the YoCo Awards and to learn more about our winner Lauren, please visit http://www.parasolgroup.co.uk/yoco-awards/


About the YoCo Awards:

Parasol’s Young Contractor of the Year Awards was created in 2016 to celebrate millennials who prefer to avoid the traditional nine-to-five, in favour of a better ‘WorkStyle’ (more lifestyle flexibility and greater financial rewards). For more information about the YoCo Awards and to learn more about our winner Lauren Farmer, please visit http://www.parasolgroup.co.uk/yoco-awards/

22.06.2016
Academy graduates first two apprentices into full-time Optionis roles

A new academy in Warrington to train school-leavers for careers in accountancy has enjoyed its first success with two Optionis apprentices moving into full-time employment.

George Riley, 18, and Amelia Heaton, 17, are celebrating gaining jobs with professional services company Optionis Group through the Accounting Apprenticeship Academy.

The academy, run in partnership by specialist education and training company Learning Curve Group (LCG) and Optionis, opened in August 2015.

LCG has invested £250,000 in the facility, which is based with Optionis’ Centre Park Square headquarters, to meet identified demand in the Warrington area for accountancy trainees.

George, from Orford, Warrington, and Amelia, from St Helens, were offered full-time employment while still only part way through their first year AAT level 2 training course.

They plan to continue their studies and take higher level programmes while also advancing their careers on-the-job as accounts assistants working alongside Optionis’ specialist teams.

Amelia, who hopes to be a qualified chartered accountant within five years, said: “When I left school, I was going to enrol at college but spotted the academy’s apprenticeship programme.

“I’d wanted to be an accountant since childhood, so I thought ‘Let’s give it a go’ instead of going through college and university.

“I figured it would make more sense to go straight into accounting with an apprenticeship and get experience.

“I’m receiving excellent training and now I’ve got a job too. It couldn’t have worked out better.”

And George added: “Our tutor, Pete Lyons, was great in helping me pass my exams.

“He gave me the confidence to apply for the job and he played a huge part in supporting my application and ensuring I was ready for the interview.

“The academy has given me the opportunity to get on the ladder to a great future in accountancy.”

Thirty 16 to 18-year-olds are taking the one-year apprenticeship, which mixes academic teaching provided by LCG’s education team and work experience in Optionis’ offices alongside its expert mentors.

It offers a clear qualification progression route, with options for those signing up for the Level 2 AAT Accounting Apprentices course to have attained level 4 by 2018.

The academy was created in response to figures from the National Apprenticeship Service, which revealed high demand for accountancy training in the Warrington area.

Brenda McLeish, Chief Executive LCG, which is based in Bishop Auckland, Co Durham, and is England’s largest education subcontractor partner of its type, said: “Amelia and George fully deserve their success.

“They have worked hard and taken advantage of the many great opportunities that the apprenticeship academy has to offer.

“The academy gives the specialist training that provides real and lasting benefits to young people seeking high quality training and routes to employment and to employers looking for keen and committed employees.”

Derek Kelly, founder and group managing director at Optionis, added: “It is great to see the hard work that both Amelia and George have put in really paying off.

“From my own perspective, I left school with a couple of GCSEs and now lead one of the UK’s top 100 firms of accountants. So being able to provide opportunities to young people who decide not to go to college or university is something that has always been an ambition of mine.”

Anyone wishing to apply for a place with the academy, or for more information, should contact Aimee Houseman at Learning Curve Group on 01388 777 129 or email aat.academy@learningcurvegroup.co.uk

17.06.2016
College names Optionis’ Laura Hutchinson Apprentice of Year
WARRINGTON – The success Laura Hutchinson has now found as an apprentice at Optionis Group was as much a result of finding the right opportunity as it was about her capabilities.

It was a break she was willing to wait 10 months for.

“I wanted an apprenticeship for marketing in my area, but I couldn’t find the right fit,” the Hartford native said recently. “After waiting that long to find a Marketing apprenticeship near my local area, I didn’t think I would be in this position 18 months down the line.”

Hutchinson, who has since been promoted to Marketing Administrator at Optionis Group after starting her apprenticeship there in 2014, has been named Intermediate Apprentice of the Year by Mid Cheshire College in Winsford.

She was honoured Wednesday evening at an awards celebration hosted by Mid Cheshire College at Hartford. Joanne Talbot, Head of Employer Services at the College read out Hutchinson’s nomination for the award in the category of employer services, where she was subsequently presented with an official certificate.

“The recognition that Laura has received with this award is testament to the great work she has delivered for the marketing team here at Optionis,” said James Lawton-Hill, Marketing Director for Optionis. “Laura is one of several marketing apprentices we have taken on in recent years and it’s fantastic to see their development and resulting contribution to the business.”

During her apprenticeship and subsequent employment with Optionis, Hutchinson has been actively involved in several large scale projects, including digital rebrands requiring proficiencies in building bespoke landing pages, testing and content optimisation. She also developed and now leads the conversion rate optimisation strategy for Parasol and ClearSky Contractor Accounting, two of the leading brands for Optionis.

Carol Adkins, Hutchinson’s marketing assessor at Mid Cheshire College, officially nominated her for the award. In the application, Adkins cited Hutchinson’s hard work, determination and self-motivation, adding that she showed a desire to go beyond what was asked of her.

“As ICT was not a requirement of the framework, being that she already had the necessary level of qualification that was not enough! The fact that there was an opportunity to do a higher level, (Hutchinson) took it.”

After regular attendance at the non-mandatory ICT sessions, Laura gained a Level 2 ICT.

“The work that Laura produced ‘blew me away’ at times, the detail, focus, pace and digital knowledge was quite eye opening for me,” Adkins noted. “Laura is an intelligent, hardworking, committed, enthusiastic, bubbly young woman, she will go far.”

Hutchinson expressed appreciation for the opportunities Optionis and Mid Cheshire College have provided for her career in the last 18 months, offering particular thanks to line manager Chris Watters at Optionis.

“He has been a huge influence on my development,” she stated. “I truly believe if you have a driven mind set and determination to work hard then an apprenticeship is definitely the way to go, it’s certainly been a rewarding start to my career.

“With this industry, learning never stops, but it’s fair to say my apprenticeship has been a great stepping stone and I’m looking forward to developing my knowledge further.”

Optionis regularly works with local educational establishments such as Mid Cheshire College that supply quality apprentices and young talent in order to source the next generation of local talent.

 
10.06.2016
Fantasy Football Winner’s Donation Matched by Parasol

WARRINGTON – Parasol, the market-leading contractor support specialist is proud to match pound for pound the £100 grand prize donation made by Adam Hopcroft, Business Manager at Real Public Sector, a trading division of SThree Partnership LLP, after his win at the inaugural season of the Parasol Recruiter Fantasy Football League.

Hopcroft’s team, the ‘Adam’s Allstars’ earned the top spot over the course of the 38-game Premier League schedule and following the win revealed he would donate the entirety of the £100 winnings to SOS Children’s Villages, a global charity partner of SThree.

Parasol Account Manager, Steven Brogden was pleased to match the prize winnings and present the £100 donation to SOS Children’s Villages in early June on behalf of Parasol and ClearSky.

“We’re thrilled to be able to support such a great cause that truly benefits a lot of people. Hopcroft’s donation, sets the bar high for all future league winners and continues to further our commitment to support our charity initiatives. At Parasol, we strongly believe in the matters that concern the people and agencies we work with every day,” says Brogden.

“A huge congratulations to Adam and his team for winning the Fantasy League. We’re proud to host the league on behalf of the agencies and recruiters they we work with every day,” says Brogden.

Hopcroft, Business Manager at Real Public Sector, is honoured to be able to donate what he can to such an incredible charity.

“As part of SThree’s partnership with SOS Children’s Villages we’re sponsoring a house in Zambia providing a home for seven orphans, funding scholarships for African students who grew up in SOS Children Villages and nurturing local partnerships with SOS Children in Germany and the US,” Hopcroft says.

“Throughout the year, SThree plans a variety of initiatives to raise funds for SOS Children’s Villages, which has allowed us to set ambitious fundraising targets, which we are on track to achieve as we raise £1 million in time for our 10 year partnership anniversary in December 2018,” Hopcroft says.

To learn more about SOS Children’s Villages and SThree’s partnership visit this link.

Parasol gladly thanks all participants in the initial campaign of the Parasol Recruiter Fantasy Football League, and looks forward to the 2016-17 season, which will continue to feature continuous updates and a competitive season. For more information, visit the Parasol website.

15.04.2016
Optionis acquires ARC Licensed Trade Consultancy Limited

Optionis has acquired ARC Licensed Trade Consultancy Limited, a specialist pub accountant, for an undisclosed sum.

Established in 2009 by Anthony Ringer, ARC specialises in providing accountancy, payroll and consultancy services to the licensed trade industry.

Following the deal, Anthony will join Optionis as Business Development Director of its ClearSky Business division. ARC’s existing client base, which includes pubs operated by Punch Taverns, Star Pubs & Bars, JW Lees and Robinsons Brewery, will be serviced by the team at ClearSky Business.

Robert White, managing director of Optionis’ SME business said: “We are committed to building our presence in the licensed trade sector by building close working relationships with pub companies and pub landlords, and by delivering a first-class service that meets their needs. The ARC business is a perfect fit based on its longstanding relationships and strong client base, particularly in Cumbria, Lancashire and Scotland.

“We are delighted to welcome Anthony to the team and believe his previous experience as a pub landlord, area manager and trade consultant fits perfectly with our strategy to provide pub companies and pub landlords with bespoke advice, based on a combination of specific pub market experience and the delivery of high quality financial advice.”

The ARC deal is the sixth acquisition to be completed by Cheshire-headquartered Optionis in the past two years and takes the company’s head count to 350 across several UK sites.

12.01.2016
Optionis selects Foster Denovo to deliver financial advisory services

Foster Denovo Limited and Optionis Group have entered into a strategic partnership that will see Foster Denovo provide regulated financial advice to clients and employees across Optionis’ three businesses – Parasol, ClearSky Accounting and its SME business division; ClearSky Business.

Operating under the brand name ‘ClearSky Financial Services’, Foster Denovo will provide a fully-managed financial advice service to freelancers, IT contractors, entrepreneurs and small business owners.

Optionis’ clients will benefit from having a hassle-free, one stop shop for all their financial advisory requirements and Foster Denovo will benefit from an opportunity to significantly grow its client numbers.

Roger Brosch, CEO, Foster Denovo, said: “We are delighted to be working with Optionis, advising its clients and employees so they can make informed financial decisions about their future.

“Strategically, this partnership is highly important for Foster Denovo. It has huge potential to grow our private client base in which we have made significant investment, and it adds a further corporate partner to our portfolio. This is an area we are keen to develop for the business.”

Robert White, managing director, ClearSky Business commented: “We know that many of our clients and employees value expert advice when it comes to making financial decisions. With the raft of changes being introduced in the world of pensions, such as the impending reduction in the lifetime allowance, this requirement has become ever more pressing.

“We selected Foster Denovo because of its excellent reputation and the fact it is able to provide a fully-managed and high quality client service. Our companies share a natural synergy, as well as a dedication to providing outstanding levels of customer services.”

03.12.2015
Optionis Group continues strategic development
Optionis is continuing to invest in its strategic development with the creation of a new executive deputy chairman role. Founder Rob Crossland will step into the new position from 1st December 2015. The formalisation of the broader strategic role that Rob has occupied in recent years aligns with the groups’ continuing growth ambitions. Derek Kelly continues in the role he has occupied since 2009 as group managing director. Non-exec chairman Iain Ferguson believes that the changes will help the group to deliver strong growth objectives by naming Crossland Deputy Chairman. He explained: “It’s a very exciting time from a group perspective, following our latest acquisitions, the recent investment in rebranding and future plans for growth. In addition, Rob can now formally occupy a clear strategic role providing further value to the entire group as it continues to expand.” Crossland founded Parasol, now part of the Optionis group, in 2000, after a career in IT contracting. Following a period of sustained growth, Crossland led a management buy-out in 2006. The company then began its acquisition strategy in 2008; creating parent company Optionis and leading to a secondary management buy-out in 2013 by MML Capital Partners.
19.10.2015
Optionis builds on tax specialism with latest acquisition

Business services provider Optionis has acquired tax rebate solutions specialist, Arnsco, for an undisclosed sum.

The deal is the fifth takeover to be completed by the Cheshire-headquartered firm in the past two years, and follows December’s acquisition of London-based tax specialist Brian Alfred Associates.

Established in 2002, Arnsco specialises in processing tax returns for Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) and Pay As You Earn (PAYE) workers.

Following the deal, the Arnsco brand will be maintained and will sit within Optionis’ SME division, ClearSky Business, led by newly appointed managing director of SME, Robert White.

White said: “We are committed to building our presence in the tax rebate solutions market, as part of our strategy to build on and extend the services offered to SMEs and their employees.

“Arnsco’s expertise in providing tax and accountancy services, when sitting alongside our recent Brian Alfred acquisition, means that we are well placed to deliver a market-leading tax return service to CIS construction workers and other PAYE-based employees.”

The Arnsco and Brian Alfred deals follow the acquisition of accountancy practices Wheatley Pearce, Lofts & Co and Michael Brookes & Co.

Law firm DWF advised Optionis on its latest acquisition, while financial and tax due diligence was performed in-house. Arnsco was advised by Ward Hadaway and Ibis Consult.

08.10.2015
Optionis wins place on Sunday Times Grant Thornton Top Track 250

Specialist business services provider Optionis has been recognised in this year’s Sunday Times Grant Thornton Top Track 250 league table.

Published this Sunday (11th October), the Top Track 250 ranks private mid-market companies that have increased their sales and profit growth by at least 10% over the past year of trading.

The ranking reflects Optionis’ ambitious acquisition and growth strategy, which has seen it acquire specialist tax solutions providers Brian Alfred and Arnsco in the last 12 months. The group, which is also home to Parasol, ClearSky Contractor Accounting, ClearSky Business and ClearSky Pub Solutions, has also invested in a new accountancy academy at its Cheshire headquarters.

In addition, the company recently appointed a new managing director for its SME division to lead a 60-strong team across Optionis’ offices in Warrington, Poole and Hounslow. This comes as Optionis looks to grow its small business offering via partnerships and a buy and build strategy.

Rob Crossland, founder and chief executive of Optionis, said: “We’re continuing to see strong growth thanks to our strategic acquisition strategy and investment in our people and our brands. As a result, we’re consistently recognised for our high quality, compliant advice that we provide to contractors, SME clients and our recruitment agency partners alike. This is recognised by our presence in the Top Track 250.”

Backed by private equity firm MML Capital Partners, Optionis employs around 350 office-based and field staff across several UK sites. Group turnover for 2014/15 was £314m.

The full Top Track 250 list will be published in the Sunday Times Business Section this Sunday (11th October) and be available online.

09.09.2015
Optionis strengthens SME business with new senior appointment

Specialist business services provider Optionis has appointed Robert White as managing director of its SME division.

This newly-created role sees White lead a 60-strong team across Optionis’ offices in Warrington, Poole and Hounslow. He will be responsible for providing accountancy, tax, payroll and HR services to small businesses, pubs and the leisure industry through the ClearSky Business and ClearSky Pub Solutions brands, as well as specialist tax solutions to Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) workers via the Brian Alfred and Arnsco brands.

The appointment comes as Warrington based Optionis looks to grow its small business offering via partnerships and a buy and build strategy.

White joins Optionis from technology distribution firm Exertis, where he was chief operating officer for the UK and Ireland. Prior to that, he held the position of vice-president and managing director of gaming company IGT-UK, better known as Barcrest. In this role, White spearheaded a 75% growth in revenue in just three years, while profits increased more than twelve fold during the same period.

He said: “I’m excited to join Optionis at a time when the SME division forms such a key part of the group’s future strategy. My focus will be to deliver a broad range of market-leading services and support for SMEs, pubs and the broader franchised operations sector, with a real focus on developing strong partnerships that take all the stress out of running a business, leaving business owners free to focus on what they do best.

“In addition our specialist tax solutions businesses, Brian Alfred and Arnsco, provide a great platform to build on our leading presence in this market, both for the benefit of SMEs and for workers that are eligible to claim tax credits and tax rebates.”

Derek Kelly, founder and group managing director at Optionis, said: “Robert’s expertise in delivering growth and building key strategic relationships, combined with his in-depth knowledge of the pub industry, make him the perfect addition to the group.

“He is extremely well-placed to develop a profitable sales strategy and I’m looking forward to seeing our SME division grow from strength to strength under his stewardship.”

Backed by private equity firm MML Capital Partners, Optionis employs around 350 office-based and field staff across several UK sites. Group turnover for 2014/15 was £314m.

18.06.2015
Optionis hires award-winning marketing director

Professional services group Optionis has appointed James Lawton-Hill to the newly-created position of marketing director.

Lawton-Hill’s appointment comes as Optionis, the parent company of contractor employment firm Parasol and accountancy & business support provider ClearSky, invests heavily in its sales and marketing functions.

In his new role, Lawton-Hill will lead a 15-strong marketing department with expertise in digital, sales support, data analysis, email marketing, content creation and social media.

He joins Optionis from printer manufacturer Brother UK, where he progressed to the role of head of marketing and led the department to the 2014 team of the year title at the B2B Marketing Awards.

The 33-year-old has also been shortlisted for the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s 2015 Northern Marketer of the Year award, the winner of which will be announced at a ceremony in Leeds on 24th June.

He said: “I’m excited to be joining Optionis at this crucial point in the group’s evolution. It’s an ambitious, dynamic and forward-thinking organisation with considerable potential for further growth.

“My focus will be on devising targeted, measurable campaigns that fit within a defined strategy of supporting our customer acquisition efforts.”

Headquartered in Warrington, Cheshire and backed by private equity firm MML Capital Partners, Optionis employs around 350 office-based staff across six UK sites. Group turnover for 2013/14 was £316m.

Its companies provide support to tens of thousands of freelancers, contractors, small businesses and recruitment firms every year.

Derek Kelly, group managing director at Optionis, said: “James is a high-calibre marketer, and in a very short time has already demonstrated his value to the group.

“His experience of working with the likes of Vodafone, Hewlett Packard, BT and Microsoft will be invaluable as we look to raise brand awareness and achieve ambitious growth targets.”

27.05.2015
Optionis boss named North West CEO of the Year

Rob Crossland of Optionis has been named North West CEO of the Year by the British Private Equity & Venture Capital Association (BVCA).

The BVCA Management Team Awards, produced in association with Grant Thornton UK LLP, are designed to recognise and celebrate the achievements of the UK’s leading businesses backed by private equity and venture capital.

There are eight regions in total, each with its own judging panel. All winners are automatically forwarded to the national final, the results of which will be revealed at a ceremony in London on 25th June.

Optionis, the parent group of Parasol, ClearSky Contractor Accounting and ClearSky Business, is backed by investment firm MML Capital Partners.

Judges commended the “impressive performance” of Optionis over the past 12 months under Mr Crossland’s leadership.

Matthew Bryden-Smith, a director in the corporate finance team at Grant Thornton, said: “One of the reasons the North is richly endowed with private equity and venture capital is the quality of the business leadership across the region.

“The dynamism, and the ability to make a difference, is reflected in these awards and we congratulate all the leaders acknowledged this year.”

In addition to the BVCA award, Crossland is among 38 finalists vying to be named EY’s North of England Entrepreneur of the Year.

The North of England final will take place in Manchester on 23rd June, with the winner progressing to compete for the title of EY UK Entrepreneur of the Year 2015.

20.05.2015
Optionis apprentice shortlisted for award

Optionis trainee Lewis Haworth has been shortlisted in the apprentice of the year category at the Warrington Business Awards.

The 23-year-old apprentice accounts assistant, who works in Parasol’s finance department, will be up against two other finalists at a black-tie ceremony on Friday, June 12th.

08.05.2015
Election 2015: Optionis companies welcome Tory majority

Optionis Group companies Parasol, ClearSky Contractor Accounting and ClearSky Business have welcomed the unexpected majority secured by the Conservatives in the general election.

Click here to read Parasol’s reaction, and here to read that of ClearSky Business.

27.04.2015
Optionis CEO shortlisted for entrepreneur award

Optionis chief executive Rob Crossland is in the running for a prestigious award.

Crossland is among 38 finalists vying to be named EY’s North of England Entrepreneur of the Year.

He said: “Looking at some of the names on the shortlist, I’m really proud to be in such good company in the final.

“I’d like to thank everyone who works hard every day to make the Optionis Group a success. After all, an entrepreneur is only as good as his or her team.”

The North of England final will take place in Manchester on 23rd June, with the winner progressing to compete for the title of EY UK Entrepreneur of the Year 2015.

Former winner Ian Kelly, who will chair the North of England judging panel, said: “Entrepreneurs come in different packages, but we’ll be looking for individuals who have exceptional leadership and motivational qualities, and who set about achieving their vision through innovation, adaptability and inspiration – whilst maintaining their focus on momentum.

“I’m sure we will hear some fascinating stories about the journeys these entrepreneurs have been on – and these stories need to be shared through programmes like Entrepreneur of the Year to inspire future leaders in the region.”

02.04.2015
Reaction to Labour’s zero-hours crackdown plan

Optionis chief executive Rob Crossland has had his say on Labour’s proposed clampdown on zero-hours contracts.

Click here to read more.

01.04.2015
Parasol produces onshore reporting infographic for recruiters

The arrival of the new tax year means record-keeping and reporting requirements linked to the onshore employment intermediaries legislation are now in force.

Staffing firms will need to record details of every contractor or temp they place, but who is not paid via the agency’s own PAYE scheme.

This information must then be sent to HMRC in a quarterly online report, the first of which is due by August.

Late, incomplete or incorrect reports could attract a financial penalty.

Parasol, part of the Optionis Group, has produced an infographic outlining the obligations, deadlines and key considerations that recruitment firms need to be aware of.

Click here to view the infographic.

26.03.2015
Holiday pay ruling to affect UK staffing industry

Parasol has responded to a legal ruling that employers must factor in commission payments when calculating holiday pay for their staff.

Legal director Juliet Byrne said: “This ruling clearly has the potential to have a major impact on the UK staffing industry.

“There will also be repercussions for any agency that operates a PAYE scheme for contractors and temporary workers working in sales-orientated roles, but does not factor in commission when calculating holiday pay.”

Click here to read more.

26.03.2015
Parasol unearths illegal worker fine data

Parasol has discovered that British companies found to be employing illegal migrant workers were fined more than £24m in 2014 – a 75% increase on the previous year.

The gross value of civil penalties issued between January and December 2014 was £24,652,500. That’s compared to the £14,107,750 recouped by the Home Office in 2013.

The Freedom of Information Act request also reveals that 2,262 civil penalties were issued to employers of illegal workers in the UK last year. That represents a 24% increase on the 2013 calendar year figure of 1,822.

Click here to read more.

18.03.2015
Budget 2015: Optionis MD welcomes travel expenses update

Our managing director has welcomed the Budget 2015 announcement on travel and subsistence expenses for contractors.

The Budget ‘red book’ confirms the government’s intention to restrict travel and subsistence relief for workers engaged through an employment intermediary, such as an umbrella company or a personal service company, and under the ‘supervision, direction and control’ of the end user.

The changes are due to take effect from April 2016 following a public consultation exercise.

Optionis group managing director Derek Kelly, said: “Overall, we see this as a huge opportunity for compliant and ethical providers, such as ourselves, to grow as a result of pressure on the low-end supply chain where most of the abuse occurs.

“The devil will be in the detail, but I believe this could be very positive in the long run.”

Click here to read more.

18.03.2015
Death of the tax return? ClearSky responds

ClearSky Contractor Accounting has given its verdict on George Osborne’s announcement regarding ‘the death of the annual self-assessment tax return’.

Managing director Derek Kelly welcomed the concept of a digital tax account but sounded a cautionary note.

He said: “It’s great to see a desire among policymakers to make life easier for independent professionals by moving systems belatedly into the 21st century.

“However, we all know from experience that government IT projects rarely run on time. Even if this one does, the changes are potentially half a decade away.

Click here to read more.

17.03.2015
Optionis apprentice of the year crowned by MP

Apprentices at a Warrington company put their design and presentation skills to the test in celebration of National Apprenticeship Week.

The challenge saw 45 apprentices at Optionis Group on Centre Park being split into teams and tasked with creating a special edition of the company’s staff newsletter.

Colleagues across the business were invited to vote for the best design, while social media was used to encourage members of the public to have their say.

The apprentices then presented their designs to a three-strong judging panel comprising Optionis’ operations director, finance director and commercial director. Each member of the winning team was treated to a goodie bag.

In addition, 23-year-old Lewis Haworth, who works in the finance department as an accounts assistant, was named Optionis apprentice of the year – receiving a trophy and £100 shopping voucher.

Warrington South MP David Mowat presented Lewis with his prizes, and praised the contribution of all the company’s apprentices.

Mr Mowat said: “This is the second time I have visited Optionis to celebrate National Apprenticeship Week.

“On both occasions I have been blown away by the energy, ability and maturity of the young people employed by the company.

“Everyone who took part should be incredibly proud, because to produce work of this quality – and then present it to the company’s directors – is no easy task.

“The apprentices conducted themselves in a professional manner, and I’m sure they will go on to achieve great things at Optionis.

“Credit should go to the company for giving young people the opportunity to earn while they learn, and gain important skills that will serve them well throughout their career.”

Optionis was recently named as one of the top 100 employers of apprentices in England. The accolade came after it was highly commended at the regional finals of the 2014 National Apprenticeship Awards.

The company works closely with Warrington Collegiate and other training providers in the area to create tailored study programmes for its apprentices.

Optionis apprentices work towards recognised academic qualifications, undergo regular assessments and are expected to contribute to hitting their department’s overall targets.

They are entitled to the same benefits and perks as all other employees, and the vast majority go on to secure a permanent job with the company.

Optionis is currently on the lookout for accounts apprentices. To register your interest, email recruitment@optionis.co.uk with your CV and a covering letter.

04.03.2015
Optionis responds to OTS Employment Status report

Optionis managing director Derek Kelly has given his verdict on the Office of Tax Simplification’s report on employment status.

Click here to read more.

04.03.2015
Parasol appointed to SThree umbrella ASL

SThree, the international specialist staffing business, has appointed professional umbrella employer Parasol to its Approved Supplier List (ASL) for the 2015/16 period.

Click here to read more.

20.02.2015
Scottish tax powers “a ticking time-bomb” for staffing firms

Scotland’s new tax powers are a ticking time-bomb for recruitment firms, Optionis finance director Andy Gunson is warning.

His comments follow publication of the draft Scotland Bill, which laid out plans to give Holyrood responsibility for setting Scottish income tax rates and bands from April 2016.

Click here to read more.

18.02.2015
Former Phones 4U board member joins Optionis

The former chief legal officer of Phones 4U has joined the board of business and freelancer services group Optionis.

Steven Lloyd spent eight years on the Phones 4U board, overseeing several major acquisitions and disposals between 2006 and 2014. Prior to that, the qualified solicitor served as legal director for the Caudwell Group.

Lloyd’s new role on the Optionis executive team will initially see him assume responsibility for the group’s sales and marketing functions. He will then move across to operations, with a focus on service improvement and innovation.

Lloyd said: “I was attracted to Optionis by the group’s ambition and growth prospects. There is a real entrepreneurial spirit and can-do attitude.

“It’s a private equity-backed business with a solid financial profile and a determination to grow, both organically and through acquisitions.

“As such I felt my career experience to date, particularly at Phones 4U, would enable me to add value and help the group to fulfil its potential.

“In many ways Optionis is a very different business to Phones 4U, but one similarity is the focus on acquisition, retention and maximising the lifetime value of customers.”

Headquartered in Cheshire, the Optionis Group employs more than 300 office-based staff across six UK sites. Group turnover for 2013/14 was £316m.

It comprises three companies – Parasol, ClearSky Contractor Accounting and ClearSky Business – that together provide support to tens of thousands of freelancers, contractors, small businesses and recruitment firms every year.

Optionis has acquired four accountancy firms in the past 18 months, as it pursues an aggressive growth strategy designed to build market share in the SME space.

A secondary buyout (SBO) backed by international investment firm MML Capital Partners was completed in January 2014, and former Havas executive vice president Iain Ferguson was recently appointed non-executive chairman.

Optionis managing director Derek Kelly said: “Steven has a huge amount of relevant experience, and has held senior management positions in the corporate world.

“His knowledge and expertise mean he will be a tremendous asset as we look to grow the business over the coming years. We are delighted to welcome him aboard.”

13.02.2015
Contractor market starts 2015 in rude health

One of the UK’s largest contractor services groups has hailed the “buoyant” market for contingent professionals, after enjoying a strong start to 2015.

Optionis, the parent group of professional umbrella employer Parasol and contractor accountant ClearSky, says January was its best month for sign-ups since mid-2013.

ClearSky beat its monthly target for new client registrations by 50%, while the number of contractors joining Parasol was 12% higher than expected.

Optionis managing director Derek Kelly believes improving economic conditions are fuelling an increase in contractor demand and assignment opportunities.

He said: “Our experience suggests that the contractor and freelancer marketplace has started the year in buoyant fashion.

“Many skilled professionals have decided the time is right to make the leap from traditional employment in pursuit of enhanced earning power, greater flexibility and an improved work/life balance.

“Meanwhile, experienced contractors are thriving in an assignment-rich environment, as organisations invest in their contingent workforce.”

Kelly added that he expected the boom in contractor hiring to continue in the coming months, thanks in part to the looming general election.

He said: “The outcome of May’s election is anyone’s guess. It’s looking increasingly unlikely that any party will secure a majority, so it’s virtually impossible to predict the make-up and policies of the next government.

“This uncertainty means many savvy organisations will delay permanent hiring until the dust settles, increasing their dependence on skilled, flexible workers in the meantime.”

Between them, Parasol and ClearSky Contractor Accounting provide support to tens of thousands of contractors every year.

The Optionis Group is also home to ClearSky Business, a one-stop shop for SMEs needing help with HR, employment law, payroll, tax and accountancy.

06.02.2015
Optionis creates 30 apprenticeships

A Warrington firm is expanding its award-winning apprenticeship programme by hiring 30 more trainees.

Optionis Group, based on Centre Park, is seeking apprentices to work in its accounts and business administration departments.

The latest intake will take the total number of apprentices working at Optionis to 75.

Managing director Derek Kelly said: “We’re looking for bright, ambitious, hard-working individuals who want the chance to earn while they learn and build a career.

“The vast majority of our trainees go on to secure a permanent position when their apprenticeship comes to an end, so there are real progression opportunities.

“We are currently seeking Government approval to establish our own NVQ accreditation for our apprentices, given the quality and depth of training they receive.”

Optionis was recently named as one of the top 100 employers of apprentices in England.

The accolade came after it was highly commended in the Newcomer Employer of the Year category at the regional finals of the 2014 National Apprenticeship Awards.

Warrington South MP David Mowat, Warrington Borough Council leader Terry O’Neill and Steve Park of Warrington & Co have all praised the Optionis apprenticeship scheme.

The group’s apprentices work towards recognised academic qualifications, undergo regular assessments and are expected to contribute to hitting their department’s overall targets.

They are entitled to the same benefits and perks as all other employees, such as free parking and gym membership.

Beth Monks, who was named Optionis apprentice of the year in 2014 and has since secured a permanent role in the firm’s human resources (HR) department, said: “This is a great place to work.

“Everyone is really friendly, there is a relaxed atmosphere and you feel like part of a team. I would recommend an apprenticeship here to anyone.”

The Optionis Group is home to three companies; Parasol, ClearSky Contractor Accounting and ClearSky Business.

Together, they provide support to tens of thousands of freelancers, contractors, small businesses and recruitment firms every year.

In addition to its two offices on Centre Park, Optionis has offices in London, Middleton in Greater Manchester, and Poole and Dorchester in Dorset. The group employs more than 300 office-based staff in total.

To apply for an apprenticeship at Optionis, email your CV to recruitment@optionis.co.uk by Friday, 6th March. Call 01925 644865 for more information.

Assessment days will take place during the week commencing Monday, 6th April.

04.02.2015
Onshore reporting: Parasol gleans extra detail from HMRC

Parasol has responded to HMRC’s latest update on record-keeping and reporting requirements linked to the onshore employment intermediaries legislation.

The document listed the information that intermediaries will need to include in new quarterly returns to the tax authority, but failed to make clear if umbrella contractors will be covered by the reporting requirements placed on recruitment firms.

Parasol sought clarification from HMRC, and was told that agencies will need to include information on contractors employed via umbrella companies.

However, only “identity details” must be provided for umbrella contractors. Payment details won’t need to be supplied.

Click here to read more.

03.02.2015
Parasol research reveals regional contractor pay hot-spots

North West England is home to as many of the UK’s highest-paid contractors and freelancers as London, according to new research by Parasol.

Click here to read more.

23.01.2015
Optionis attends apprenticeships fair

Optionis was one of more than 40 companies that gathered in Warrington last night for a major apprenticeships fair.

The likes of Amec Foster Wheeler, Barclays, Bentley Motors, Jaguar Land Rover, Sellafield, The Hut Group, Unilever and United Utilities exhibited at the Warrington Apprenticeship Job and Careers Fair.

Advisers from the National Apprenticeship Service, Department for Work and Pensions and Barclays Life Skills were on hand throughout the evening to offer guidance.

An estimated 900 would-be apprentices attended the event to explore different career options.

20.01.2015
Dispatches: Parasol responds to umbrella company investigation

Parasol has responded to last night’s episode of Dispatches, which included an investigation into umbrella companies.

Click here to read Parasol’s response.

06.01.2015
Optionis appoints non-executive chairman

Business and freelancer services group Optionis has appointed Iain Ferguson as non-executive chairman.

Ferguson, a former executive vice president at global advertising and marketing giant Havas, will advise the Optionis management team on strategy and operations.

His arrival comes a year after Optionis completed a secondary buyout (SBO) backed by MML Capital Partners.

Ferguson will play a key role as the Cheshire-headquartered group, which has made four acquisitions in the past 18 months, eyes further potential takeover targets.

Optionis group managing director Derek Kelly said: “Iain’s expertise will be invaluable as we enter the next phase of our long-term growth strategy.

“Crucially, he has experience of advising and helping to lead ambitious, private equity-backed companies such as Optionis. We are pleased to welcome him aboard.”

Optionis now employs more than 300 office-based staff across seven UK sites.

Through its three brands – Parasol, ClearSky Contractor Accounting and ClearSky Business – the group provides support to thousands of contractors, freelancers, small businesses and recruitment firms. Group turnover for 2013/14 was £316m.

Last month’s swoop for tax firm Brian Alfred Associates followed takeovers of accountancy practices Wheatley Pearce, Lofts & Co and Michael Brookes & Co since May 2013.

Ferguson adds his non-executive chairmanship at Optionis to several other leadership roles at UK and international firms.

He said: “Optionis ticks all the right boxes for me. It is a dynamic, acquisitive and bold organisation with a strong leadership team and excellent growth potential.

“I plan to help it fulfil that potential over the coming months and years.”

22.12.2014
ClearSky Pub Solutions lands Joseph Holt HR brief

Independent brewer Joseph Holt has invited ClearSky Pub Solutions to provide human resources (HR) and employment law advice to its network of self-employed publicans.

The agreement signals a strengthening of the relationship between the two firms, which has seen ClearSky provide accounting and payroll support to Holt’s ‘retail partners’ since 2011.

Click here to read more.

17.12.2014
Parasol welcomes travel expenses discussion paper

Parasol has responded to HMRC’s publication of a discussion paper exploring the issue of tax relief on temporary workers’ travel and subsistence expenses.

Click here to read more.

16.12.2014
Optionis acquires London-based tax specialist

Business and freelancer services group Optionis has acquired a market-leading firm of tax specialists for an undisclosed sum.

The Brian Alfred Associates deal is the fourth takeover to be completed by Cheshire-headquartered Optionis in the past 18 months.

Established in 2004, Brian Alfred revolutionised the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) tax system by introducing speedy electronic rebates. The West London-based firm has around 5,000 clients and 20 staff.

Following the deal, the Brian Alfred brand will be maintained and will sit within Optionis’ SME-facing division, ClearSky Business.

Optionis group managing director Derek Kelly said: “This acquisition is the latest example of our buy-and-build strategy in the SME space.

“Brian Alfred is a slick and innovative outfit that is already a market leader in its field. I am confident that we will enable the company’s huge potential for further growth to be fulfilled.”

Brian Alfred founder and CEO Paul Atkin, who is stepping down following the acquisition, said: “It gives me great comfort and reassurance to know that I am leaving the business in safe and capable hands.

“The Optionis philosophy of sustainable growth aligns perfectly with our own, and I am sure Brian Alfred will go from strength to strength as part of the group.

“I would like to reassure our clients that, post-acquisition, it will be a case of business as usual. Indeed, the only difference they are likely to notice is further improvement in the services we offer them.”

The acquisition means Optionis now employs more than 300 office-based staff across seven UK sites.

As well as ClearSky Business, the group is home to Parasol and ClearSky Contractor Accounting. Between them, the latter two divisions provide support to tens of thousands of contractors and freelancers every year. Group turnover for 2013/14 was £316m.

In January 2014 Optionis completed a secondary buyout (SBO) backed by international investment firm MML Capital Partners.

The Brian Alfred deal follows takeovers of accountancy practices Wheatley Pearce, Lofts & Co and Michael Brookes & Co since May 2013.

Law firm DWF advised Optionis on its latest acquisition, while EY assisted with financial and tax due diligence.

Brian Alfred was advised by law firm Temple Bright and BDO’s corporate finance team.

04.12.2014
Parasol responds to Autumn Statement 2014

Parasol chief executive Rob Crossland has welcomed George Osborne’s plans to scrutinise umbrella companies as part of a crackdown on tax avoidance.

The chancellor announced during his Autumn Statement on December 3 that he intends to review the use of “so-called umbrella companies that deprive people of basic employment rights like the national minimum wage and, as a result, avoid tax.”

Rob hailed Mr Osborne’s comments as a potential “breakthrough” for the professional contingent workforce services sector.

Click here to read more.

29.11.2014
Autumn Statement: ClearSky publishes contractor wishlist

With this year’s Autumn Statement just around the corner, ClearSky Contractor Accounting managing director Derek Kelly spoke to a leading industry news site about what freelancers will be hoping to get out of George Osborne.

Derek told Contractor UK: “As hard-working professionals who are simply trying to put their skills and expertise to use in order to make a decent living, contractors value certainty, stability and continuity above anything else.”

Click here to read more.

28.11.2014
Onshore reporting: Parasol’s solution for recruitment firms

Parasol is developing software designed to ease the administrative burden placed on recruitment firms by new HMRC regulations.

Its solution will “lighten the load” of agencies affected by reporting requirements linked to the onshore employment intermediaries legislation.

Parasol will transfer its contractor employee pay and assignment data to recruitment firms via a secure, encrypted web portal – simplifying the reporting process and saving them valuable time in the process.

A six-figure sum is being invested in IT security systems to ensure sensitive data can be held and shared safely.

Click here to read more.

26.11.2014
Parasol responds to union criticism of umbrella companies

Parasol has responded to claims by trade unions that thousands of construction workers are being exploited and forced to work via umbrella companies as a result of new false self-employment legislation.

Rob Crossland, Parasol’s founder and chief executive, said: “We fully support the government’s efforts to eradicate the scourge of false self-employment in construction and other sectors. UCATT and Unite are performing an important role in this, by ensuring that the new legislation does not result in vulnerable workers being exploited.

“However, what is lacking from the union campaign is a sense of balance. There has been no attempt to distinguish between unethical payroll companies that use dubious methods, and professional employment providers offering contractors and freelancers genuine support.

“Without clarification, the union campaign risks tarring all providers with the same brush.

“That’s why I believe compliant firms such as ourselves may soon have no option but to abandon the term ‘umbrella company’ and re-define what we do. Indeed, this is an idea we will be raising with the Freelancer and Contractor Services Association (FCSA), of which Parasol is a founding member.”

Click here to read more.

20.11.2014
ClearSky-backed charity ball breaks all the records

A ClearSky Business-sponsored fundraising ball generated a record-breaking £21,000 for children’s charity Brainwave – more than double last year’s total.

The jazz-themed fundraiser took place at The Mere Golf Resort & Spa in Knutsford on Saturday, 15th November.

Click here to read more.

14.11.2014
Optionis named as top 100 apprentice employer

Optionis has been named as one of the top 100 employers of apprentices in England.

The Cheshire-headquartered business and freelancer services group received the accolade at the National Apprenticeship Awards in Birmingham last night (Thursday, 13th November).

Compiled and published by vocational education specialist City & Guilds, the Top 100 Apprenticeship Employers list features “exceptional” businesses who displayed “the highest standards of excellence” in this year’s awards process.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg congratulated Optionis on making the list.

He said: “This year’s top 100 apprenticeship employers have demonstrated the huge impact on the young people they invest in and the many benefits for their organisations.

“Apprentices help employers develop a skilled and qualified workforce to build a stronger economy, whilst creating a fairer society where young people can get on and go far in some of Britain’s best companies.

“I would encourage more businesses across England to follow these shining examples and find out how apprenticeships can help them build a skilled, motivated and highly qualified workforce.”

The Optionis group employs 50 apprentices working across 11 departments, including accounts, human resources, sales ledger, payroll, IT, credit control and marketing. More are set to be recruited in the coming months.

Optionis’ inclusion in the top 100 list comes after it was highly commended in the Newcomer Employer of the Year SME category at the regional finals (North West – Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Staffordshire) of the National Apprenticeship Awards.

The group’s apprentices work towards recognised academic qualifications, undergo regular assessments and are expected to contribute to hitting their department’s overall targets.

They are entitled to the same benefits and perks as all other employees, and the vast majority go on to secure a permanent position when their apprenticeship comes to an end.

Earlier this year, Optionis held a Dragon’s Den-style event to celebrate National Apprenticeship Week. Apprentices were tasked with delivering a presentation outlining the benefits of work-based learning to a panel of judges including Warrington South MP David Mowat.

Optionis managing Derek Kelly described the group’s inclusion in the list as a proud moment.

He said: “We think it’s essential that UK businesses support young people and give them the tools they need to make a valuable contribution to the economy.

“We have put a lot of thought and hard work into creating a genuinely effective, sustainable and rewarding apprenticeship scheme, so to receive this recognition is fantastic.”

The Optionis group is home to three operating brands; Parasol, ClearSky Contractor Accounting and ClearSky Business.

In addition to its two offices in Warrington, Cheshire, Optionis has bases in London, Middleton in Greater Manchester, and Poole and Dorchester in Dorset.

City & Guilds CEO and director general Chris Jones said: “It’s fantastic to celebrate the top 100 apprenticeship employers.

“They should be proud of their role in helping people gain the skills they need to be successful. After all, apprenticeships are a great way for people to earn as they learn, and they bring countless benefits to businesses.”

06.11.2014
Parasol responds to landmark holiday pay ruling

Parasol has responded to this week’s landmark employment tribunal ruling on holiday pay and overtime.

The judgement stated that non-guaranteed overtime must be taken into account when calculating holiday pay.

Our group legal and technical director, Juliet Byrne, told news site Contractor Calculator that compliant umbrella companies will not be affected.

She said: “Genuinely compliant professional employment organisations and umbrella companies, such as Parasol, have always taken overtime into account when calculating holiday pay. The ruling will therefore have no impact on either us or our employees.”

Click here to read more.

24.10.2014
Guide to contracting and freelancing as an engineer

Engineering professionals can benefit from advice on becoming a contractor, thanks to a guide produced by Parasol.

The guide, written for careers site EngineerJobs, can be read here.

Engineers looking to boost their career prospects are invited to attend the National Engineering and Construction Recruitment Exhibition.

The free event takes place on 28th and 29th November 2014 at the NEC in Birmingham.

Click here for more information.

08.10.2014
Parasol invites Labour’s Chuka Umunna to HQ

Parasol has invited shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna to visit the Optionis group’s head office in Cheshire.

It follows reports that a Labour government would look to take action against umbrella companies as part of a wider crackdown on tax avoidance.

Click here to read Parasol’s blog post explaining the decision in more detail, and click here to read an article penned by our managing director Derek Kelly for news site Contractor UK.

07.10.2014
Optionis MD discusses growth plans with business magazine

Optionis managing director Derek Kelly is the subject of an in-depth interview in the latest issue of North West Business Insider magazine.

In the article, Derek tells Insider editor Chris Maguire of his desire to grow the group over the coming years.

He also talks about his childhood and early career.

The October 2014 issue of Insider can be accessed here.

30.09.2014
False self-employment: staffing firms cull rogue suppliers

Legislation around false-self employment has prompted a cull of “cowboy” supply chain partners by staffing firms, new research suggests.

All 16 senior recruitment industry executives questioned by Optionis said they had introduced additional checks and stopped working with suppliers – such as umbrella companies – who fail to meet compliance standards in light of the new rules.

Similarly, every respondent had sought some form of professional guidance regarding their agency’s obligations under the onshore employment intermediaries legislation.

The vast majority had either implemented a preferred supplier list (PSL) for the first time, or strengthened an existing one.

All but two participants believed they had a solid grasp of the new measures, having conducted extensive research into them.

However, less than half of respondents (seven out of 16) had discussed the implications of the legislation with their clients, while only a quarter (four out of 16) had gone so far as to broach the subject of liability and indemnities.

The onshore rules, which came into effect in April, require staffing firms to prove that any self-employed workers they place are genuinely independent.

Failure to do so could result in the agency and even its directors being hit with a bill for unpaid PAYE tax and National Insurance contributions.

From August 2015, recruitment businesses that have direct contractual relationships with end clients will need to file quarterly reports containing “details of all workers and their payments where PAYE wasn’t operated.”

Late, incomplete or incorrect reports could result in a financial penalty.

One agency executive who took part in the focus group study called on the staffing sector to unite and demand more clarity from HMRC on the reporting requirements.

He said: “The whole of our industry needs to push HMRC to get the reporting requirements firmed up and formalised at least three months before the start of the reporting year, to enable systems development and adequate testing to take place.”

Another senior industry figure wrote: “Applying the required governance to ensure compliance throughout our workforce is very time consuming. There is no defined criteria from HMRC, so we don’t know if the levels of compliance we are applying are correct.”

Optionis, home to outsourced employment specialist Parasol and contractor accountant ClearSky, said its research showed that agencies are taking a pro-active approach to compliance in light of the legislation.

“It’s clear that the vast majority of recruitment industry leaders want to do the right thing, and are taking steps to ensure their organisation complies with the new rules”, said Optionis sales director Jeff Blakemore.

“The main obstacle seems to be a lack of clarity from the taxman. The additional guidance published earlier this month was a start, but questions still remain – particularly around reporting requirements and the interpretation of supervision, direction or control (SDC).

“Overall, however, it seems the legislation is helping to raise standards across the contingent worker recruitment supply chain. This can only be a good thing for the industry.”

To request a free legislative compliance training visit from the Optionis legal team, email training@optionis.co.uk with the subject line ‘Legislation agency visit’ and your contact details.

26.09.2014
Is the Virgin ‘unlimited holidays’ plan a PR stunt?

Sir Richard Branson has made headlines this week after granting some Virgin staff “unlimited holidays.”

Optionis group managing director Derek Kelly described the idea as a clever PR stunt, but questioned the practicalities of implementing such a regime.

He told Recruiter magazine: “I believe the Monday to Friday, 9 ‘till 5 way of working is dying, which is why we allow head office staff in departments such as IT, finance, HR and marketing to work ‘condensed hours’ over four days a week.

“The Branson model looks great for staff at first glance – but delve a little deeper and the shine comes off slightly.

“Workers can only take time off provided they feel ‘100% comfortable that they and their team are up to date on every project, and that their absence will not in any way damage the business or their careers.’

“This could actually serve to dissuade employees from taking time off, by making them feel guilty for doing so.

“Also, how many people can actually afford to take an unlimited number of holidays?

“I am very happy with our four-day working week model, which improves people’s work-life balance but also maintains certainty and stability regarding staffing levels and staff pay.”

Click here to read the Recruiter magazine article.

25.09.2014
Optionis MD responds to Ed Miliband’s conference speech

The Optionis group has responded to reports that a Labour government would take action against umbrella companies.

It was widely reported earlier this week that party leader Ed Miliband would set out plans to “prevent so-called umbrella companies being used by firms to avoid tax and national insurance by exploiting expenses rules” in his conference speech.

In the event, Mr Miliband made no direct reference to umbrella companies – but several media outlets were still reporting afterwards that the clampdown was part of Labour’s plan to combat tax avoidance.

Optionis group managing director Derek Kelly said: “There is a lack of clarity over what, if anything, Labour is actually proposing.

“Despite the party PR machine suggesting ahead of the speech that talk of a crackdown was forthcoming, Mr Miliband made no reference whatsoever to umbrella companies.

“We contacted Labour HQ on Tuesday afternoon, and were told very clearly that anything not included in the speech should be dismissed as speculation.

“I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of this. However, for the record I would urge policymakers to steer clear of tarring all umbrellas with the same brush.

“No one can deny that there are some unscrupulous providers operating at the less reputable end of the market – often in sectors such as construction, warehousing and hospitality.

“However, it is important to make a distinction between those firms and professional, compliant employment providers – such as Parasol – that offer skilled contractors and freelancers genuine support.

“Until politicians and civil servants grasp this, it sadly seems inevitable that our entire sector will continue to be dragged unfairly into the ongoing debate on tax avoidance – damaging Parasol and other compliant providers by association.”

19.09.2014
Scottish ‘no’ vote good news for recruiters and contractors

The rejection of independence by Scottish voters is good news for staffing firms and contractors across the UK, according to Parasol and ClearSky parent group Optionis.

Derek Kelly, managing director at Optionis, said: “I think staffing industry professionals, contractors and freelancers will breathe a collective sigh of relief following this morning’s result.

“There were many questions around tax, regulation and trade that the SNP and pro-independence lobby failed to answer.

“Had the people of Scotland voted for independence, we would have today been bracing ourselves for years of uncertainty as politicians thrashed out a ‘divorce’ settlement.

“Prior to the poll, there were suggestions in some quarters that a ‘yes’ vote would boost demand for IT contractors due to the creation of new government bodies and systems north of the border.

“However, in my view any short-term boost would have been far outweighed by the long-term damage to Scotland’s economy and key industries, such as financial services and North Sea oil and gas.

“As someone who grew up in Edinburgh, I have followed the independence debate very closely. I am pleased that the people of Scotland resisted Alex Salmond’s alluring but misleading rhetoric, choosing instead to vote rationally.”

18.09.2014
Optionis apprenticeship scheme praised by award judges

Optionis is in the running to be officially recognised as one of the UK’s top 100 employers for apprentices.

It comes after the business services group was praised at the 2014 National Apprenticeship Awards.

Optionis was highly commended in the Newcomer Employer of the Year SME category (North West – Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Staffordshire) at a ceremony in Manchester on 16th September.

The category is designed to acknowledge and celebrate employers who have recently invested in apprenticeships, and can demonstrate immediate benefits.

Following the commendation, Optionis could now feature in the 2014 Top 100 Apprenticeship Employers list. The prestigious guide will be published later this year in partnership with vocational education specialist City & Guilds.

Warrington-headquartered Optionis currently employs around 40 apprentices – the youngest aged just 16 – working across 11 departments. That number is growing all the time as the group embarks on its biggest ever recruitment drive.

Apprentices work towards recognised academic qualifications and almost always go on to secure permanent positions with the company.

Praising the Optionis apprenticeship scheme, judges highlighted the fact that the group’s trainees are given responsibilities and treated as permanent employees from the outset.

It was also noted that apprentices are central to the group’s goal of “long-term, sustainable recruitment”.

Optionis group managing director Derek Kelly said: “Our apprentices have brought energy, enthusiasm and an insatiable desire to learn.

“They perform a vital function within their respective departments, and have enabled us to maintain a high level of service as the business grows.

“We want to develop the most rewarding, effective and innovative apprenticeship scheme in Britain, and feel we have made a good start on this long journey.

“To be highly commended at the award ceremony was great, and to make the top 100 list would be even better.”

Earlier this year Optionis held a Dragons’ Den-style event to celebrate National Apprenticeship Week. Human resources (HR) trainee Beth Monks received a £100 shopping voucher and commemorative plaque after winning the group’s in-house Apprentice of the Year award.

The Optionis group is home to three operating brands; ClearSky Contractor Accounting, Parasol and ClearSky Business.

In addition to its two offices in Warrington, Cheshire, Optionis has bases in London, Middleton in Greater Manchester, and Poole and Dorchester in Dorset.
17.09.2014
Parasol climbs business league table

Parasol once again been featured in an annual league table of north-west England’s top businesses.

The prestigious North West Top 200 Companies Index ranks the region’s biggest businesses in order of turnover, and also carries details of each company’s pre-tax profits.

Click here to read more.

10.09.2014
Optionis creates 60 new jobs in recruitment drive

Professional services group Optionis has reached the halfway mark of an “unprecedented” recruitment drive that will see it create nearly 60 new jobs.

The Cheshire-headquartered company, which provides support services to freelancers, contractors, small businesses and recruitment firms, has filled 27 new posts since June.

It is now on the lookout for another 31 new starters, with vacancies in areas such as IT, accountancy, sales, marketing and customer service. Roles range from management positions through to apprenticeships.

Derek Kelly, group managing director at Optionis, described the hiring spree as the company’s largest to date.

He said: “Our ambitious growth plans mean we’re always on the lookout for talented people, but this is new territory for us in terms of the sheer number of jobs being created.

“Not one of these roles is a like-for-like replacement – they are all brand new positions that will bring fresh skills and ideas to the table, grow capacity and enhance our ability to deliver a first-class service.

“For me, creating new jobs is undoubtedly one of the most exciting and rewarding parts of running a business, so this is a fantastic time to be part of the Optionis management team.”

The Optionis group is home to three operating brands; ClearSky Contractor Accounting, Parasol and ClearSky Business. Group turnover for 2013/14 was £316m.

In addition to its two offices in Warrington, Cheshire, Optionis has bases in London, Middleton in Greater Manchester, and Poole and Dorchester in Dorset.

The current recruitment drive will take the number of office-based staff working at Optionis to nearly 300, including around 40 apprentices. Total headcount is expected to reach 350 by March 2016.

Optionis employees working across core head-office functions have the chance to work a ‘condensed’ week over four days and take either Mondays or Fridays off.

Benefit packages include private healthcare, childcare vouchers, paid time off for volunteer work, free gym membership, free fruit and a complimentary lunch once a month.

Optionis recently launched the Ideas Bank – a reward scheme enabling employees who come up with original initiatives to pocket a share of savings or profits.

05.09.2014
Former cabinet minister talks business with Optionis MD

A high-profile MP discussed youth training, transport links and bank lending during a round-table event with Warrington business leaders.

Former Labour cabinet minister Dame Tessa Jowell yesterday spoke to representatives of three thriving companies at Warrington Town Hall.

Optionis group managing director Derek Kelly used the event to make the case for improvements to the town’s road network.

Redline Recruitment owner Tom Farrell, meanwhile, expressed concerns over access to finance for SMEs. Andrew Hutchinson of Stockton Heath-based design and marketing company, Diagram Design, joined in calls for young people to receive more preparation for the world of work.

The issue of youth training and education dominated the discussion, with all parties agreeing that businesses and schools must work together more closely in order to ensure future generations can “hit the ground running” when starting their career.

Speaking afterwards, Kelly welcomed the chance to discuss topical business issues with Dame Tessa.

He said: “It’s not every day you get to voice your concerns directly to a former minister. As the MD of a fast-growing and ambitious business, it was a good opportunity and an interesting discussion.”

Also in attendance were Warrington Borough Council leader Cllr Terry O’Neill, Warrington & Co managing director Steve Park and Warrington South Labour parliamentary candidate Nick Bent.

Dame Tessa, who will next year stand down from the Dulwich and West Norwood seat she has held since 1997, described the informal round-table discussion as “fantastically rich.”

She praised Warrington’s credentials as a location for start-ups and SMEs, applauding its willingness to “shout louder” in order to rival Manchester and Liverpool as the North West’s premier business location.

Cllr O’Neill said: “It was a pleasure to welcome Dame Tessa to Warrington. The round-table discussion was useful and informative for all parties, and is just one example of our efforts to support the town’s vital and thriving business community.”

29.08.2014
Parasol named UK’s best umbrella company

Parasol has been voted the UK’s best umbrella company by readers of Contractor Daily.

The industry news site asked the 8,500-plus members of its LinkedIn group for IT contractors: “Which is the best umbrella company?”

Parasol attracted 50% of the vote, with the remaining share being split between four of our competitors.

Click here to read more.

26.08.2014
ClearSky eyes pub growth after toasting takeover

ClearSky Business has acquired the accountancy arm of Bridgewood Financial Solutions following a two-year partnership.

The acquisition means that all accountancy services for pubs will now be delivered by ClearSky.

Bridgewood’s existing clients, along with all pub-focused accountancy staff, are being transferred across.

Click here to read more.

20.08.2014
Lack of niche skills ‘holding contractors back’

Contractors who fail to display niche and in-demand skills risk being overlooked by recruiters.

That’s the key finding of a survey conducted by Optionis group company Parasol.

Jeff Blakemore, sales director at Parasol, described the findings as a “timely reminder” for contractors and freelancers of the importance of honing and enhancing their skills.

Click here to read more.

15.08.2014
‘Meet the accountant’ events expanded

ClearSky Contractor Accounting is expanding its popular ‘meet the accountant’ events, following a successful pilot scheme.

Existing clients, individuals thinking of becoming a contractor and contractors thinking of switching accountant can now book an appointment with ClearSky on any working day between 8am-8pm.

The free advice sessions are held at ClearSky’s offices in Poole, Dorset and Warrington, Cheshire.

Click here to read more.

12.08.2014
ClearSky Business supports charity fundraiser

ClearSky Business, part of the Optionis group, is sponsoring what promises to be a charity’s biggest ever corporate fundraising ball.

All proceeds from the event will go to Brainwave, which helps children with disabilities and additional needs to achieve greater independence and fulfil their potential.

The ‘swing and sparkle’ ball takes place on 15th November 2014 at The Mere in Knutsford, Cheshire. Tickets cost £50 per person or £500 for a table of 10. The price includes drinks on arrival and a three-course meal, plus live entertainment.

Click here to find out more.

08.08.2014
Consultants ‘a vital cog in the Whitehall machine’

Consultants make a key contribution to government departments and offer taxpayers value for money, the head of a contractor and freelancer services group has claimed.

Derek Kelly, managing director at Optionis, was responding to a Newsnight investigation into Whitehall spending on external consultants.

Figures obtained by the BBC programme show that at least 30 consultants worked in government departments last year on day rates of £1,000-£2,000.

The Department for Transport took on 10 consultants, while the Ministry of Defence said it had recently hired someone earning up to £3,000 a day. Separate figures show the MoD spent £137m on “technical consultants” last year.

Unions and lobby groups such as the Taxpayers’ Alliance reacted angrily to the findings, but Kelly leapt to the defence of consultants.

He said: “Consultants play an important role in ensuring complex and important projects are delivered on time, and are a vital cog in the Whitehall machine.

“Their contribution should be recognised and valued. In time of austerity they actually deliver value for money, despite the eye-catching headlines.

“The day rates being paid to consultants represent the total cost to the public purse. There are no employer National Insurance (NI) contributions, no holiday pay and – most importantly – no pension costs to add on.

“Conversely, a permanent employee earning £500 a day could actually be costing the government – and therefore taxpayers – an additional 35% or 40% on top of this.

“Sadly, such nuances are rarely reflected in mainstream media coverage and the wider public debate.”

He added: “After the recent controversy over high-profile civil servants operating through personal service companies (PSCs), the last thing public-sector contractors need is another witch hunt.

“The government, quite rightly, often wants the best talent to work on a specific project for a short period of time. In these circumstances, bringing in consultants – even on high day rates – is more cost-effective and sensible than hiring permanent employees.”

The Optionis group, home to contractor accountancy firm ClearSky and employment provider Parasol, supports thousands of skilled freelancers and independent workers every year.

05.08.2014
Optionis strengthens leadership team after profits boost

Business, freelancer and staffing industry support provider Optionis has bolstered its executive team after recording an increase in annual pre-tax profits.

The Cheshire-headquartered group has appointed Andy Hague, formerly managing director at human resources (HR) specialist Croner, as SME operations director.

Meanwhile Andy Gunson joins as finance director from industrial recruitment firm Gap Personnel, where he spent just over two years in the same role.

They join chief executive Rob Crossland, managing director Derek Kelly and operations director Ifti Ahmed on the Optionis senior management team.

Optionis announced the appointments alongside news of its financial results for 2013/14.

Pre-tax profits increased from £2.5m to £2.7m on turnover of £316m, while EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation) edged up from £5.32m to £5.33m.

Net assets more than doubled from £5.5m to £11.8m.

Kelly said: “After a solid year of trading that supports our long-term strategy of sustainable growth, these two appointments will help us to take the business to the next level.

“Andy Gunson is a talented finance director who possesses first-class knowledge of the staffing industry – a key audience for us.

“At the same time Andy Hague’s experience of providing support services to small and medium-sized firms will be invaluable as we look to grow market share in that space.”

Crossland added: “It’s pleasing to be able to bring in executive team members of this calibre.

“Our new colleagues will play a vital role as the Optionis group enters the next phase of its evolution.”

The Optionis group is home to three operating brands; ClearSky Contractor Accounting, Parasol and ClearSky Business.

ClearSky Contractor Accounting, one of the UK’s 100 largest practices by fee income, specialises in providing accounting and tax advice to independent professionals who operate through their own Limited company.

Parasol provides employment services to contractors, freelancers and skilled temporary workers, mitigating risk for the recruitment firms and hirers who work with them.

ClearSky Business is a one-stop shop for SMEs seeking fixed-fee support and advice on everything from human resources (HR) and employment law to payroll, tax and accountancy.

In January 2014 the Optionis management team completed a secondary buyout (SBO) backed by international investment firm MML Capital Partners.

The deal provided an exit for private equity firm Inflexion, which backed an original management buyout in 2006.

In addition to its two offices in Warrington, Cheshire, Optionis has bases in London, Middleton in Greater Manchester and Poole and Dorchester in Dorset – employing around 250 office-based staff in total.

01.08.2014
ClearSky climbs accountancy industry league table

ClearSky has climbed 14 places in Accountancy Age magazine’s Top50+50 survey after achieving year-on-year revenue growth of 43%.

The Optionis group company posted fee income of £6.71m for 2013/14, taking it to number 73 in the respected league table compared to 87 last year.

Only two practices featured in the annual list of the UK’s 100 biggest accountancy firms posted a higher rate of fee-income growth.

Click here to read more.

24.07.2014
IR35: Public-sector contractors seek help

ClearSky Contractor Accounting, part of the Optionis group, has received a flurry of requests for IR35 reviews from public-sector contractors.

The increase in demand comes after an investigation revealed that 86 executives working at NHS foundation trusts could face an investigation over their use of Personal Service Companies (PSCs).

ClearSky’s compliance manager, Mairi Bowen, said: “National media coverage of Monitor’s findings seems to have jolted many public-sector contractors into action.”

Click here to read more.

18.07.2014
Parasol unearths auto-enrolment figures

Parasol, part of the Optionis group, has obtained data revealing the extent to which pensions auto-enrolment legislation is posing a challenge to the staffing industry.

Figures released by the Pensions Regulator under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that, between 1st October 2012 and 30th April 2014, a total of 25 auto-enrolment breaches by recruitment agencies and staffing firms were recorded.

Click here to read more.

17.07.2014
Staffing firms offered industry legislation training

Recruitment services group Optionis, home to employment provider Parasol and contractor accountant ClearSky, has revamped its legislative compliance training visits for staffing firms.

The free sessions now cover the onshore and offshore employment intermediaries legislation and the recent European ruling on holiday pay and commission, as well as:
  • Pensions auto-enrolment – risks and considerations for agencies
  • AWR three years on
  • Treasury expenses review: what agencies need to know
  • IR35 and MSC legislation: how to advise your contractors
  • Toolkit for ensuring your supply chain partners are compliant
  • TUPE: best practice for agencies

Aimed at recruitment consultants and other ‘coal face’ agency staff, the sessions are led by the Optionis group’s legal and technical director Juliet Byrne, and compliance manager Mairi Bowen.

Juliet, a qualified solicitor who has specialised in employment law for over 15 years, said: “The legislative landscape rarely stands still in the world of recruitment and employment, and recent months have seen significant developments – particularly in the shape of the new rules on false self-employment.

“That’s why we have updated the content of our successful technical training visits. Keeping compliance procedures up to date – not to mention ensuring your recruiters are fully up to speed – can be challenging for even the most pro-active agency, and these sessions are designed to aid them in this task.”

Through its Parasol and ClearSky Contractor Accounting brands, the Optionis group maintains relationships with thousands of UK recruitment firms, including some of the biggest names in the industry.

Parasol has employed more than 70,000 contractors, freelancers and contingent workers since launching 14 years ago, while ClearSky recently secured its 10,000th contractor client.

Dozens of staffing firms have benefited from the Optionis group’s compliance training since the sessions were introduced in 2012.

To find out more and to arrange a free visit to your premises, call 0844 815 9950 or email training@optionis.co.uk with the subject line ‘Legislation agency visit’ and your contact details.

07.07.2014
Double apprenticeship triumph for Warrington firm

A Warrington-based services group has been recognised for its fast-growing apprenticeship scheme – just days after one of its trainees won a prestigious award.

Optionis is celebrating being named as a North West regional finalist in the National Apprenticeship Awards (newcomer SME employer category).

The success comes after Tom Mellor, a 22-year-old accounts assistant at Optionis company ClearSky Contractor Accounting, was named apprentice of the year at Warrington Collegiate’s annual award ceremony.

Optionis group managing director Derek Kelly said: “As a group we’re committed to hiring and nurturing young talent, so it’s great to receive formal recognition of our apprenticeship scheme.

“To have two pieces of good news in the space of a few days is absolutely fantastic. In fact, we were all still busy congratulating Tom on his achievement when we heard about the employer awards!

“We have apprentices working right across the group, in various companies and departments, and I personally have been extremely impressed with their hard work and creativity.

“A key pillar of our apprenticeship scheme is to ensure that all trainees are treated exactly the same as other, more senior employees from day one. They are all given genuine responsibilities and opportunities to gain new skills.

“Optionis apprentices also have the chance to secure permanent roles with us upon completion of their training. I think it’s these features that persuaded the judges to put us on the shortlist for the regional awards.

“Now we’re all looking forward to the event in September. To make it through to the national finals would be out of this world!”

As well as ClearSky Contractor Accounting, the Optionis group is home to outsourced employment specialist Parasol and SME support provider ClearSky Business.

In addition to its Warrington headquarters on Centre Park, Optionis has bases in Middleton in Greater Manchester, Dorset and London.

There are 34 apprentices working across the group, 28 of which are based in Warrington. As its apprenticeship scheme continues to flourish, Optionis is now hiring an additional 19 Warrington-based trainees.

Vacancies exist in several departments including marketing, payroll, credit control, expenses and customer service. Click here or email recruitment@optionis.co.uk for more information.

The latest recruitment drive will take the total number of Optionis apprentices to 53.

04.07.2014
NI and income tax merger plan “political suicide”

Merging National Insurance and income tax would make sense but is unlikely to happen because of the political risks, an employment tax expert has predicted.

Derek Kelly, managing director at contractor, recruitment and SME services group Optionis, believes a merger would be an act of “political suicide” due to concerns over the impact on pensioners and employers.

The former KPMG director was responding to media reports – since played down by Downing Street – that the Conservatives could include a pledge to replace the separate levies with a single ‘earnings tax’ in their 2015 general election manifesto.

Supporters of the idea, which was the subject of a Treasury consultation in 2011, claim it would create a simpler, more transparent tax system. Critics point to the scale and complexity of the IT project the change would necessitate.

Kelly said: “Merging NI and income tax is absolutely the right thing to do for taxpayers and the government. The current system is incredibly complex and is in desperate need of reform. However, I doubt the chancellor will have the courage to make it happen.

“There are several major questions that would need to be addressed for the merger to make it onto the Tories’ manifesto, as far as I can see.

“First of all, how will pensioners, whose pension income is exempt from NI contributions, be affected? Will they still benefit from a lower rate of tax if they continue to work?

“Secondly, what would happen to employers’ NI contributions? It has been reported that they would remain unchanged under the plan, but calculating them would be extremely difficult under a merged system.

“If they were to change, would employers end up paying more, or less? If it’s the latter, how would the shortfall be made up?

“Thirdly, given voters’ lack of trust in politicians, there is likely to be a widespread public assumption that a merger was a ruse designed to hike tax rates via stealth.

“This inevitable misconception would need to be addressed.”

Cheshire-headquartered Optionis is home to Parasol, ClearSky Contractor Accounting and ClearSky Business.

27.06.2014
Optionis strengthens senior team with dual promotion

The Optionis group has made two key promotions as it looks to further enhance its offering to contractors, freelancers, recruitment firms and small businesses.

Employment law specialist Juliet Byrne, formerly head of legal at Cheshire-headquartered Optionis, is now legal and technical director and will assume overall responsibility for legislative compliance across the group.

Meanwhile, operations delivery manager Shelley Ankers-Wainwright has been made head of sales operations.

The newly-created role will see Shelley focus on implementing smoother processes within the business development function of Optionis brands Parasol and ClearSky Contractor Accounting.

The dual promotion comes as Optionis looks to cement and build on its position as the UK’s largest provider of support and employment services for professional freelancers and contractors.

Through its ClearSky Business brand, which offers fixed-fee advice on human resources (HR), employment law, tax, payroll and accountancy, Optionis is also looking to achieve rapid growth amongst SMEs.

Optionis group managing director Derek Kelly said: “This is a crucial time in the evolution of Optionis, so we need talented people like Juliet and Shelley at the forefront.

“Both have shown tremendous dedication, loyalty and skill during their time with us, and I would like to congratulate them on their promotions.”

Optionis employs 250 head-office staff at sites in Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Dorset and London.

25.06.2014
ClearSky Business launches tax advice service

ClearSky Business, part of the Optionis group, has launched a tax advice service for individuals and business owners.

Clients will be offered expert guidance on everything from Inheritance Tax planning and rental income to Capital Gains Tax and Self-Assessment Tax Returns.

The launch of ClearSky Tax adds to the payroll, accounting, human resources (HR) and employment law support services already offered by ClearSky Business.

Click here to find out more.

24.06.2014
Scottish contractors reject independence, ClearSky survey finds

Research by Optionis company ClearSky Contractor Accounting suggests that Scotland’s contractors and freelancers are against independence.

Of 275 respondents to ClearSky’s survey, 62.5% said they would vote against independence if the referendum was held tomorrow, compared to 32.1% who were in favour of separation. A further 5.4% indicated they would abstain.

Click here to read more.

10.06.2014
Government responds to Lords PSC report: the Optionis verdict

The chief executive of the Optionis group has commented on the government’s response to a House of Lords select committee inquiry into personal service companies (PSCs).

Rob Crossland said: “It’s good to get a formal government response on this second review into PSCs and IR35.

“In essence, the government is re-emphasising its previously confirmed position on IR35, namely to keep the legislation in its current form and improve enforcement. Indeed, the government position now seems fairly clear and consistent.

“It’s pleasing to see the importance of the flexible workforce, along with the legitimate use of PSCs by genuinely self-employed individuals and the role played by compliant umbrella businesses, being recognised by policymakers.

“Given the improving economic environment and the importance of the flexible workforce in this, a degree of stability is very helpful. The last thing contractors, service providers and recruitment firms need at this point is more legislative change.

“We support HMRC’s ongoing efforts to improve the administration and enforcement of IR35, and through the Freelancer and Contractor Services Association (FCSA) are involved in this process.”

05.06.2014
Queen’s Speech: technical recruiters and contractors boosted

Recruiters and contractors working in construction, civil engineering and energy have been boosted by yesterday’s Queen’s speech, according to Optionis managing director Derek Kelly.

He said: “News of reforms designed to speed up infrastructure projects will be music to the ears of those working in construction and civil engineering – sectors that have long been frustrated by planning delays.

“Meanwhile, a new North Sea super agency tasked with ‘maximising economic recovery’ from the area’s oil and gas reserves has the potential to create additional work opportunities for contractors and freelancers working in the industry.

“Allowing fracking firms to run shale gas pipelines deep under private land without getting prior permission may be highly controversial, but it would aid the development of a fledgling industry that has the potential to create thousands of UK jobs. As such, I believe the government is right to propose the change.

“Meanwhile, moves to simplify the collection of NICs for the self-employed are welcome, as they would cut administration and make life easier for self-employed professionals.”

The Optionis group is home to outsourced employment specialist Parasol, contractor accountancy firm ClearSky Accounting and SME support provider ClearSky Business.

03.06.2014
Optionis MD welcomes Treasury expenses review

Freelancer and business support provider Optionis has welcomed news that a government review of employee expenses will progress this summer.

Derek Kelly, group managing director at Optionis, was reacting to confirmation that the Treasury is to consult employers as part of its review of the travel and subsistence expenses system.

He said: “I fully support the Treasury’s aim of producing a new expenses system that reflects working patterns in the 21st century.

“Any measure that seeks to increase transparency, raise standards and stamp out unethical practices in the recruitment and outsourced employment sector is to be applauded.

“It’s important that employers make their views known during the consultation period, because this is a golden opportunity to create an expenses system that works for all parties.”

The Optionis group is home to outsourced employment specialist Parasol, contractor accountancy firm ClearSky Accounting and SME support provider ClearSky Business.

Parasol provides employment services to professional contractors and freelancers, who are able to claim back legitimate business expenses incurred during assignments.

Kelly added: “Parasol operates one of the most rigorous and compliant expenses policies in the outsourced employment sector, scrutinising thousands of claims every week and only processing those that are legitimate.

“However, it’s no secret that some unethical umbrella companies encourage contractors to submit round-sum allowance claims in order to maximise their own profits.

“This places contractors at risk of an HMRC investigation, and in our view is wholly unacceptable.

“Hopefully this summer’s consultation will be the first step in the creation of a fairer and more sensible system.”

22.05.2014
ClearSky IR35 webinar proves a hit with contractors

More than 250 people registered for ClearSky Contractor Accounting’s latest webinar.

The free online tutorial offered Limited company contractors advice on complying with IR35, the controversial piece of tax legislation introduced by the Labour government in 2000.

Other topics included what to expect, and how to conduct yourself, during an IR35 investigation.

Click here to read more and view the webinar presentation online.

08.05.2014
Parasol launches Contractor Barometer reports

Parasol has introduced a new series of market intelligence reports designed to assess the state of the UK’s professional contractor and freelancer market.

The Contractor Barometer surveys are designed to track changes in confidence levels among skilled contingent workers across different regions and sectors, and analyse attitudes towards topical issues.

Click here to download the first report, or here to view and share the accompanying infographic.

06.05.2014
VIDEO: Optionis MD talks growth with business journalist

Optionis managing director Derek Kelly discussed our growth plans in a video interview with a respected business journalist.

Click here to watch Derek talking acquisitions, strategy and investment with North West Business Insider editor Chris Maguire.

06.05.2014
ClearSky to host accountancy advice clinics

ClearSky Accounting is to host a series of free monthly drop-in advice sessions at its offices in Cheshire and Dorset.

Attendees will have the chance to discuss their financial and bookkeeping queries and receive pro-active, tailored advice from ClearSky accountants.

The advice clinics will take place in Warrington and Poole on the second Thursday of every month, with the first to be held on May 8th from 10am to 8pm.

Click here to find out more.

Meanwhile, ClearSky Business is holding a series of advice clinics for start-ups and SMEs in Middleton, Greater Manchester. Click here for details of the Middleton event.

23.04.2014
Onshore legislation: warning over hidden risks to staffing firms

Recruitment firms looking to comply with new rules on false self-employment could inadvertently fall foul of separate legislation, a staffing industry partner is warning.

Optionis, home to professional employment provider Parasol and contractor accountant ClearSky, believes agencies requesting detailed information from suppliers about Limited company contractors are at risk from the Managed Service Companies (MSC) legislation.

Jeff Blakemore, a director at Optionis, said: “In light of the onshore employment intermediaries legislation, a growing number of agencies that place Limited company contractors are naturally attempting to ensure that they hold all of the necessary information on those individuals and their businesses.

“HMRC is reviewing a reduced reporting requirement for personal service company (PSC) payments. However, in the meantime, by demanding that accountancy providers hand over information such as a contractor’s National Insurance (NI) number and the hours they have worked, an agency could inadvertently trigger the MSC legislation and eventually be hit with an unexpected tax bill by way of debt transfer.

“This is because, in HMRC’s eyes, when one company possesses that level of information on another, and readily passes it on to a third party, there is a strong suggestion that an MSC structure is in place. Data protection laws are also a cause for concern.

“Additionally, any attempts by agencies or accountants to dictate or influence the structure of a contractor’s Limited company – for example by insisting that no new directors are added – would act as a red flag for HMRC. Worryingly, such attempts are becoming increasingly common.

“Our advice to agencies is to be wary of any contractor accountant that freely hands over NI numbers and other potentially sensitive data regarding its clients, or that agrees to influence the business decisions of its clients with regard to company structure.”

Blakemore added that, in order to avoid being caught by the MSC legislation, staffing firms should bear in mind that legitimate contractor accountants maintain a relationship with their contractors similar to that between any high-street accountant and its small business clients.

“No one would expect a small, town-centre accountancy practice to keep a record of the NI number of every business owner it has helped to set up a Limited company, or to know how many hours each of its clients worked in the past week”, he said.

“Nor would the accountant instruct the client not to change the ownership structure of their business. Similarly, the fact that a contractor accountancy firm has helped an individual set up a Limited company does not mean that it will monitor his or her working hours.

“I am concerned that agency compliance with MSC legislation could be compromised unless there is a change in mindset regarding Limited company contractors and their accountants.”

The MSC legislation was introduced in April 2007. It applies to individuals providing their services through intermediaries that meet the definition of a managed service company.

All payments received by individuals deemed to be providing their services through MSCs are subject to PAYE and NI contributions. Under the legislation, the burden of unpaid debt can be transferred to recruitment firms deemed to have encouraged or facilitated the MSC scheme.

11.04.2014
ClearSky to hold IR35 webinar

ClearSky Contractor Accounting, part of the Optionis group, is holding a webinar on IR35 compliance for contractors.
The free online tutorial takes place on Thursday, 17th April 2014 from 1pm – 2pm.

Click here to find out more and register.

07.04.2014
Lords report a timely boost for contractors, says Optionis

Optionis, home to professional employment provider Parasol and specialist contractor accountant ClearSky, has hailed a new House of Lords report as a timely boost for contractors and freelancers.

Published today (Monday 7th April), the report by the Lords select committee on personal service companies calls on HMRC to provide clearer guidance on IR35.

It also recommends the creation of an official government guide laying out the differences between employment and self-employment.

Optionis chief executive Rob Crossland said: “As skilled, enterprising professionals who bring added value to businesses across the country, contractors and freelancers are the unsung heroes of the UK economy.

“It’s extremely refreshing to see some political support for contractors – as well as recognition of the challenges they can face when it comes to complying with complex legislation.

“The idea of a written guide to differentiate employment from self-employment is a common-sense step.

“However, it is unclear how such a guide would interact with the ‘supervision, direction or control’ test included in the onshore employment intermediaries legislation.

“Indeed, it is ironic that the Lords’ call for greater clarity comes just as the new false self-employment measures – a source of confusion and anxiety for Limited company contractors – come into force.”

28.03.2014
Revealed: the cost of illegal working to UK PLC

Data obtained by Parasol under the Freedom of Information Act shows that British companies found to be employing illegal migrant workers were fined more than £14m in 2013.

The gross value of penalties issued – £14,107,750 – was up 31% on the £10,775,500 recouped by the Home Office in 2012.

In total, 1,822 civil penalty notices were issued to UK-based employers between January and December 2013.

This number represents a 50% increase on the previous 12 months, during which 1,216 penalties were imposed.

Click here to read more.

21.03.2014
Budget 2014: the Optionis verdict

Chancellor George Osborne has delivered his fifth Budget, unveiling a series of measures to support manufacturers, exporters and savers.

Responding to the speech, our sales director Jeff Blakemore told Recruiter magazine that technical staffing firms operating in sectors such as engineering, manufacturing and oil & gas would be the main beneficiaries.

He said: “Measures such as the £7bn package to cut energy bills for manufacturers should increase the profitability of the sector, boosting job creation and, with it, demand for the skills of recruiters.”

Click the following links to read Budget summaries and responses from Optionis group brands Parasol, ClearSky Contractor Accounting and ClearSky Business.

21.03.2014
Parasol produces auto-enrolment guide

Parasol, part of the Optionis group, has produced a free guide to pensions auto-enrolment for recruitment firms.

It comes as more than 1,000 UK-based agencies prepare to reach their auto-enrolment staging date between April and July 2014.

Under the legislation, once a staffing firm reaches its staging date it will need to begin automatically enrolling any temporary or contingent workers it pays on a PAYE basis in a compliant workplace pension scheme, and making employer contributions.

Parasol is the only major professional employment organisation (PEO) or umbrella company to have gone through the process of delivering a compliant auto-enrolment solution.

Click here to read more and download the guide.

12.03.2014
MP praises Warrington firm’s “outstanding” apprentices

Trainees at a fast-growing Warrington company put their presentation skills to the test during a Dragons’ Den-style event held to celebrate National Apprenticeship Week.

The challenge involved 27 apprentices at Optionis on Centre Park being divided into three teams and tasked with creating a video or presentation outlining the benefits of embarking on an apprenticeship with the company.

The presentations were judged by a panel of ‘dragons’ including Warrington South MP David Mowat and Optionis chief executive Rob Crossland, with each member of the winning team being treated to a goodie bag containing prizes.

In addition, 19-year-old human resources (HR) trainee Beth Monks won the company’s inaugural, individual ‘Optionis Apprentice of the Year’ award – receiving a £100 shopping voucher and a commemorative plaque.

Speaking at the close of the event, Mr Mowat hailed the enthusiasm, creativity and confidence on display.

He told the gathered apprentices: “The ability to speak confidently in public, and build a rapport with your audience, will be increasingly important as you progress in your career.

“You are all winners today because you have had the opportunity to speak in public, and you have seized that opportunity and done incredibly well.

“I have been extremely impressed with the standard of the presentations I have seen today, and I have no doubt that you will all be successful in your careers here at Optionis.

“You should all be extremely proud of yourselves.”

Optionis employs around 250 staff across sites in Warrington, Greater Manchester, London, Poole and Dorchester. That number is expected to reach 350 by March 2016.

The group is home to employment services provider Parasol, small business and contractor support specialist ClearSky and cloud-based sales performance management software Silverline.

Optionis trainees work towards recognised academic qualifications during their first 12 months with the group, with the opportunity to secure permanent contracts once they complete their apprenticeship.

The company works closely with Warrington Collegiate and other training providers in the area to create tailored study programmes for its apprentices.

During their presentations, the apprentices mentioned the opportunity to gain vital work experience, earn a wage and become a valued member of a team as just some of the advantages of an apprenticeship over going to university.

They highlighted perks such as free fruit and free gym membership, as well as the opportunity to land a permanent role and progress through the ranks, as some of the main benefits of working at Optionis.

Many said they would recommend an apprenticeship to their friends.

Rob Crossland said: “As an organisation we place a strong emphasis on nurturing local talent and giving young people the opportunity to progress and develop.

“The presentations were fantastic, and I feel extremely proud of all our apprentices.”

To register your interest in the Optionis apprenticeship scheme, email recruitment@optionis.co.uk with your CV, area of interest and a covering letter explaining your reasons for wanting to become an Optionis apprentice.

11.03.2014
Optionis acquires historic accountancy firm

Business and freelancer support provider Optionis has completed its first takeover of 2014, as it continues to build its ClearSky brand into a ‘one-stop shop’ for small firms.

The Cheshire-headquartered group has acquired Dorset-based accountancy practice Wheatley Pearce for an undisclosed sum.

Established in 1881, Wheatley Pearce is one of the oldest independent accountancy practices in Britain. Its founder, Colonel Wheatley, was a founding member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW).

Today the firm has a client portfolio consisting of more than 350 small and medium-sized businesses.

Under the terms of the deal, Wheatley Pearce will become part of ClearSky. Current owners Ken Butcher and Greg Bemment are staying on full time and will continue to work closely with clients.

Wheatley Pearce is the third accountancy practice to be acquired by Optionis in the past year.

The deal follows takeovers of Greater Manchester-based Michael Brookes & Co in May 2013, and Dorset-based Lofts & Co four months later.

In addition to accountancy, ClearSky Business now offers small firms fixed-fee support and advice on business functions including tax, payroll, human resources and employment law.

Optionis managing director Derek Kelly said: “This latest acquisition will enhance even further the range of services that we offer small and medium-sized businesses.

“Wheatley Pearce is a prestigious accountancy practice with a long and proud history that stretches back more than 130 years.

“It has a proven track record of providing strategic and pro-active advice to growing businesses, which is why it’s a perfect fit for ClearSky and Optionis.

“We are pleased that the current owners have agreed to stay on board and help us build ClearSky into the go-to provider of support to Britain’s growing army of SMEs.”

Wheatley Pearce co-owner Ken Butcher said: “Greg and I are extremely excited to become part of the ClearSky success story.

“It really will be a case of business as usual, but with the added benefit that we will now be able to offer our clients access to a wider range of services.”

As well as ClearSky Business, the Optionis group is home to ClearSky Contractor Accounting, employment services provider Parasol and cloud-based sales performance management software Silverline.

Group turnover for the current financial year is forecast to be £335m.

Law firm DWF advised Optionis on the Wheatley Pearce deal.

07.03.2014
ClearSky joins £30m Growth Voucher scheme

ClearSky Accounting, part of SME advice specialist ClearSky Business, has been made an accredited advisor for the government’s £30m Growth Voucher scheme.

Launched on January 27th, the scheme will match 20,000 small businesses with mentors through a marketplace-style website.

ClearSky’s accreditation means start-ups and small businesses will be able to come to the company for subsidised financial and cash flow advice.

Click here to read more.

28.02.2014
Accountancy firm praised for nurturing young talent

ClearSky Accounting has been awarded ‘Investors in Students’ status by Bournemouth & Poole College.

The accreditation acknowledges ClearSky’s commitment to nurturing young talent.

It sees the company, which has an office in Poole, join an elite group of employers that have helped to boost the career prospects of graduates in the Dorset area.

Click here to read more.

19.02.2014
False self-employment: make end clients liable, says Optionis

Staffing industry partner Optionis has leapt to the defence of recruitment agencies by urging the government to rethink legislation to tackle false self-employment.

Optionis, home to outsourced employment provider Parasol and contractor accountant ClearSky, says end clients rather than agencies should be ultimately responsible for the employment taxes of falsely self-employed workers.

Chief executive Rob Crossland believes the draft onshore intermediaries legislation, due to come into force in April 2014, places an unreasonable burden on agencies in terms of both additional risk and administration and reporting.

He said: “In common with other Freelancer and Contractor Services Association (FCSA) members, we support the aim of eradicating false self-employment and the exploitation of vulnerable, low-paid workers that comes with it.

“However, we believe that it is unfair to expect agencies to carry sole responsibility for the PAYE tax and employer’s National Insurance (NI) contributions of workers deemed by policymakers to be falsely self-employed.

“Through the FCSA we are lobbying the government in an attempt to ensure that end clients, rather than agencies, are made liable financially. After all, it is the end client that is the main beneficiary of the work carried out by the individual.

“Staffing firms have been made to jump over one legislative hurdle after another in recent years, and the last thing the sector needs is more risk and more admin.”

Contingent workforce management specialist Parasol counts Adecco, Hays and Alexander Mann Solutions amongst its clients. ClearSky Contractor Accounting is one of the UK’s fastest-growing accountancy firms for Limited company contractors.

“We are concerned that genuinely self-employed workers will be unfairly and adversely affected by the proposed legislation as it stands”, continued Crossland.

“We are also seeking additional assurances that legitimate Limited company contractors operating through personal service companies (PSCs) won’t be caught by the legislation.

“HMRC has suggested that the legislation will not cover PSCs, or indeed contractors who work through professional employment organisations or umbrella companies, but we would like this to be stated unambiguously in the legislation and the accompanying guidance.

“We are also concerned that the legislation conflicts with case-law definitions of self employment”, he concluded.

17.02.2014
ClearSky Business appointed by Logicare Plus

ClearSky Business has agreed its second trade-body partnership in the space of two months.

Under the terms of the deal, ClearSky will become an approved provider of employment law, HR, health & safety, accountancy, tax and payroll advice to members of Logicare Plus.

Click here to read more.

13.02.2014
National Apprenticeship Week: Optionis trainees set for challenge

Trainees at a Cheshire-headquartered professional services group will get a taste of TV shows The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den thanks to a National Apprenticeship Week challenge.

More than 25 apprentices at Optionis in Warrington will be split into teams and tasked with creating a presentation or marketing campaign to encourage young people to consider an apprenticeship.

The various pitches will be judged by a three-strong panel comprising Warrington South MP David Mowat, Warrington & Co managing director Steve Park and Optionis chief executive Rob Crossland.

A prize will also be presented to the winner of the company’s inaugural ‘Apprentice of the Year’ award, with submissions being assessed by Optionis senior managers.

The judging panel and presentation will take place at the company’s premises on Centre Park in Warrington on Friday, 7th March – the last day of National Apprenticeship Week 2014.

“As a group we have invested heavily in our apprenticeship programme, and we now have trainees playing key roles throughout most business units and departments”, said Rob.

“I for one have been extremely impressed by the talent, dedication and work ethic I have witnessed”, he added.

“National Apprenticeship Week is the perfect occasion to recognise and celebrate the vital contribution made by our trainees. I’m looking forward to seeing the ideas they come up with.”

Optionis employs around 250 staff across sites in Warrington, Greater Manchester, London, Poole and Dorchester. That number is expected to reach 350 by March 2016.

The group is home to employment services provider Parasol, small business and contractor support specialist ClearSky and cloud-based sales performance management software Silverline.

Optionis trainees work towards recognised academic qualifications during their first 12 months with the group, with the opportunity to secure permanent contracts once they complete their apprenticeship.

The company works closely with Warrington Collegiate and other training providers in the area to create tailored study programmes for its apprentices.

Adam Swift, 18, a marketing apprentice at Optionis, said: “For me, being able to earn money at the same time as getting experience in a busy marketing department is brilliant.

“Everyone here is really friendly and I have been given some interesting projects to get my teeth into. Some of my friends have gone to university, but for me it’s good to get used to the routine of a working week, and get that experience under my belt.

“Hopefully I will be able to get a permanent job here once I’ve completed my apprenticeship.”

To register your interest in the Optionis apprenticeship scheme, email recruitment@optionis.co.uk with your CV, area of interest and a covering letter explaining your reasons for wanting to become an Optionis apprentice.

04.02.2014
Optionis investment deal wins award

The recent secondary buyout at Optionis has been named North West Business Insider magazine’s Deal of the Month for January.

David Casey, news editor at Insider, said: “Optionis has grown considerably since the original management buyout back in 2006.

“With its well-known brands and ambitious growth plans there looks set to be more expansion for this company in the future.”

Click here to read more.

27.01.2014
ClearSky Accounting secures 10,000th contractor client

Specialist contractor accountant ClearSky Accounting has secured its 10,000th client.

The milestone was achieved after the Optionis group company attracted more than 1,600 sign-ups between January and December 2013.

“We’ve set ourselves a number of ambitious targets, and are prepared to invest in the business in order to achieve even faster growth in 2014”, said accounting director Daniel Mepham.

Click here to read more.

27.01.2014
Optionis MD condemns Labour’s 50p tax plan

Optionis managing director Derek Kelly has criticised Labour’s pledge to bring back the 50p top rate of income tax.
He said: “Bringing back the 50p tax rate for high earners would be a retrograde step, and has the potential to stifle the economic recovery.

“It seems Labour has learnt nothing about promoting entrepreneurship, or encouraging business investment and job creation.

“The small business owners and freelancers we work with are wealth creators. They are enterprising, talented, ambitious and hard-working individuals.

“In other words, they are precisely the kind of people that this country needs if Britain is to succeed in the global race, and precisely the kind of people Ed Balls is targeting with this punitive proposal.

“It is highly doubtful that the increase would raise any additional revenue for the Treasury. What it would do is send a clear anti-business message and discourage innovation and growth.

“We need to incentivise ambitious people, and this would do the polar opposite.”

22.01.2014
Optionis hires former Capita director

Business and freelancer support provider Optionis has appointed a former director of outsourcing giant Capita to its senior management team.

Ifti Ahmed Iftikhar Ahmed spent 12 years at Capita, playing a key role in the delivery of several central and local government contracts.

He occupied senior roles including managing director (BPO) at Capita Insurance Services and, more recently, operations director with responsibility for the Capita Secure Border Services partnership with the Home Office.

The 47-year-old joins Optionis as group operations director. He will oversee the operations functions of employment services provider Parasol, and small business and contractor support specialist ClearSky.

He said: “There are three things that attracted me to this role.

“Firstly, this is already a highly successful company but there is a powerful ambition and determination to grow. Secondly, the senior management team that I’ll be joining is knowledgeable, passionate and highly skilled.

“Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, I find the whole ethos of the organisation very appealing – particularly the friendly atmosphere and the way that employees are respected and looked after.

“Like Capita, Optionis is fundamentally an outsourcing specialist, so my skills and experience are extremely relevant.

“I am looking forward to helping Optionis become even more dynamic and efficient as an organisation.”

The Optionis group employs around 250 head office staff across sites in Warrington, Greater Manchester, London, Poole and Dorchester. That number is expected to reach 350 by March 2016.

Group turnover for the current financial year is forecast to be £335m.

Optionis managing director Derek Kelly said: “Ifti brings with him a wealth of expertise, and we’re thrilled to welcome him aboard.

“His experience in business process outsourcing (BPO) will be invaluable as we enter the next phase of our growth plans.”

Rob Crossland, chief executive at Optionis, added: “Ifti will be an excellent addition to our senior management team.

“His track record speaks for itself, and I’m sure he will enable us to improve our operational efficiency even further.”

The Optionis management team recently completed a secondary buyout (SBO) backed by international investment firm MML Capital Partners.

The investment comes as Optionis looks to establish its ClearSky Business brand as a ‘one-stop shop’ for small firms seeking fixed-fee support and advice on business functions including accountancy, human resources, employment law, tax and payroll.
07.01.2014
Optionis eyes SME growth following investment

Optionis, which provides support services to small businesses, recruitment firms and freelancers, is eyeing further growth in the SME space after securing a landmark investment deal.

The secondary buyout (SBO) has been backed by MML Capital Partners. It enables the Optionis management team, led by chief executive Rob Crossland, to increase its stake in the business to 50%.

Clients, employees and other stakeholders are being reassured that it will be a case of business as usual for all companies within the Optionis group following the investment.

The deal provides an exit for private equity firm Inflexion, which backed an original management buyout in 2006.

MML, which has offices in London, New York and Paris, is a leading independent investment firm with more than $2bn invested across 12 countries during the last 25 years.

The Optionis group is home to employment services provider Parasol, small business and contractor support specialist ClearSky and cloud-based sales performance management software Silverline.

Optionis employs around 250 head office staff across sites in Warrington, Greater Manchester, London, Poole and Dorchester. That number is expected to reach 350 by March 2016.

Group turnover for the current financial year is forecast to be £335m.

Parasol provides outsourced employment solutions to recruitment firms including Hays, Adecco, Alexander Mann Solutions, Capita Resourcing and LA International. As the UK’s largest professional employment organisation (PEO), Parasol recently employed its 70,000th career contractor.

ClearSky Accounting is the UK’s 87th largest accountancy firm. Fee income for the year from April 2012 – March 2013 was up 42.7% on the previous 12 months.

The MML-backed investment comes as Optionis looks to establish its ClearSky brand as a ‘one-stop shop’ for small firms seeking fixed-fee support and advice on business functions including accountancy, human resources, employment law, tax and payroll.

ClearSky has 1,400 SME clients and growing, with numbers forecast to hit 2,000 by March 2014.

Optionis chief executive Rob Crossland said: “As a management team we are excited to be re-investing in, and emphasising our commitment to, the group.

“This deal will support our goal of sustainable growth over the long term, as we look to establish ClearSky as the fixed-fee support provider of choice for Britain’s small businesses, and leverage Parasol’s expertise in workforce management to grow that business.

“MML is a world-class investment firm, with a track record of partnering with thriving companies and supporting their growth ambitions. We are delighted to be teaming up with them.”

Derek Kelly, managing director at Optionis, added: “We are already the UK’s leading provider of workforce management solutions in the professional contractor and freelancer space, and are well on our way to replicating this success in the small business arena.

“There are 4.8m SMEs in the UK, accounting for 99% of all businesses, so the growth potential for a support provider with the necessary expertise and a unique offering is huge. I believe we fit the bill, which is why we’re forecasting significant revenue and volume growth in the coming months and years.

“I would like to reassure our existing clients, partners and employees across all businesses within the group that they will see no changes to our service, ethos or pricing structure as a result of this deal. The investment is designed to support our growth plans, pure and simple.”

Richard Mayers, investment director at MML, said: “We are very pleased to back this exceptional management team led by Rob and Derek, and are hugely excited by the opportunities for Optionis as an outsourced business services provider to the SME sector.”

EY, Taylor Wessing, Ward Hadaway, Grant Thornton and DWF advised on the deal. Bank financing was provided by HSBC’s Manchester-based Leveraged Finance team.

19.12.2013
BCFA appoints ClearSky HR

ClearSky HR has replaced Citation as the sole provider of human resources, health and safety and employment law advice to members of the British Contract Furnishing Association (BCFA).

Founded in 1970, the BCFA is the leading business association for the contract furnishing industry. Its members are manufacturers, suppliers and designers of furnishings for commercial buildings in the UK and overseas.

BCFA managing director Colin Watson said: “Our members want legal advice that offers commercial protection but doesn’t break the bank or leave them tied into long-term contracts, which is why we went to ClearSky.”

Click here to read more.

19.12.2013
Parasol produces legislative guide for recruiters

Parasol has produced a free guide designed to help staffing firms prepare for forthcoming legislation on offshore umbrella companies.

The Offshore Employment Intermediaries legislation, due to come into force in April 2014, seeks to close a tax loophole whereby the employment of UK-based workers is outsourced to overseas companies with a view to avoiding employment taxes.

Under the new rules, ultimate responsibility for a worker’s employment taxes will lie with recruitment firms, rather than end clients. Therefore, any agency that has offshore arrangements in place within its supply chain could find itself hit with an unexpected debt.

Parasol’s new guide covers key questions such as:

• In light of the new legislation, what can a recruitment agency do to protect itself?

• How could a preferred supplier list (PSL) help to safeguard an agency?

• What should an agency look for in an outsourced employment provider?

Click here to download the PDF guide.

12.12.2013
Optionis hailed as success story by business magazine

“Optionis is the type of success story the region wants to see more of.”

So reads the opening line of an article in the December 2013 issue of North West Business Insider magazine.

We were pleased to be the subject of a case study as part of a feature focusing on Warrington, the thriving Cheshire town where our head office is located.

The case study focuses on our growth plans and recent expansion into a second Warrington premises, which you can read about here.

Our decision to commit to Warrington comes amid a major programme of investment in the town, which tops the league table for business start-ups outside London according to a recent study.

04.12.2013
Company’s four-day week inspired by Gambian model

A professional services group has introduced a four-day working week with a view to boosting productivity and improving its employees’ work-life balance.

Cheshire-based Optionis has given employees the chance to work a ‘condensed’ week over four days and take either Mondays or Fridays off.

Managing director Derek Kelly decided to permit specific departments to trial the new arrangement earlier this year, after reading that the West African state of Gambia had switched to a four-day week for public sector workers.

Following extensive consultation, staff working across several head office functions including IT, human resources and marketing have now switched permanently to a four-day model.

The new arrangement sees employees who opted to take up the offer working 8am-6pm for four days, instead of 9am-5pm from Monday to Friday.

“I have never understood why, in this country, we are so closely wedded to the Monday to Friday, ‘9 till 5’ working week”, said Kelly.

“Reading about the changes in Gambia made me think – why can’t we do this here?

“A four-day week has so many benefits in terms of an individual’s work-life balance. Giving someone a day off in the week allows them extra time to run errands, socialise and pursue hobbies and interests.

“The feedback from our staff has been overwhelmingly positive. People are telling us they feel more refreshed coming into work after a three-day weekend, and more focused when they are in work.

“Anecdotally, we’re starting to see improvements in productivity and output from those departments that have moved to four days.

“For us, this is a powerful talent retention and attraction tool, as well as a means of making us more efficient and productive as an organisation.

“That’s not to mention the environmental and personal benefits of cutting the weekly commute by a day. For the four days an employee is in work, they will also avoid the worst of the rush-hour traffic by starting earlier and finishing later.”

Optionis, which provides support services to small businesses, recruitment firms and freelancers, employs more than 250 staff across offices in Warrington, Greater Manchester, Dorset and London.

The group is home to outsourced employment services provider Parasol, contractor and small business support specialist ClearSky and cloud-based sales performance management software Silverline.

Employee benefit packages include private healthcare, childcare vouchers, paid time off for volunteer work, free gym membership, free fruit and a complimentary lunch once a month.

29.11.2013
Optionis backs college’s apprenticeship challenge

Optionis, which has its head office in Warrington, is supporting a campaign designed to boost the number of apprenticeships on offer in the Cheshire town.

The company is one of several employers that has given its official backing to the Warrington 100 Days Apprenticeship Challenge.

The challenge, led by Warrington Collegiate in partnership with local newspaper the Warrington Guardian, aims to create the conditions for Warrington employers to find out more about recruiting an apprentice.

Optionis, which currently has more than 25 apprentices working across its different companies and departments, was recently praised by Warrington Borough Council leader Terry O’Neill for giving young people in the town a credible alternative to university.

Click here to find out more about the Warrington 100 Days Apprenticeship Challenge.

29.11.2013
Contractor employees praise Parasol in satisfaction survey

Parasol’s latest satisfaction survey has revealed positive feedback from its contractor employees.

The results show that 85% of employees are happy with the support they receive from Parasol, while 76% feel either loyal to or protected by the company.

Meanwhile, 89% were very satisfied or satisfied with the time it took to resolve their last query.

Click here to read more.

26.11.2013
ClearSky Business sponsors rugby league side

ClearSky Business has agreed a sponsorship deal with rugby league club Hull Kingston Rovers.

The partnership will see ClearSky become the Super League side’s principal sponsor for the 2014 season.

The ClearSky Business logo will adorn Hull KR’s home and away shirts, and the company will also be given advertising space at the club’s Craven Park stadium.

Click here to read the full press release.

13.11.2013
Parasol supports prestigious recruitment industry event

Parasol recently supported one of the biggest nights in the UK recruitment industry’s calendar.

The Optionis group company sponsored the ‘best performing PLC’ category at the 2013 Recruitment International awards ceremony in London.

Specialist engineering agency Matchtech took home the award, seeing off competition on the night from Staffline and Parity.

Click here to read a blog post reflecting on the sense of optimism and confidence that characterised the event.

30.10.2013
Optionis MD hailed as high-flyer by business magazine

Optionis managing director Derek Kelly has been included in a respected business magazine’s round-up of rising stars.

North West Business Insider’s annual ’42 under 42′ feature celebrates the skill and achievements of the region’s young business leaders.

Derek, who joined Optionis in 2008, made this year’s list after judges observed that he is ”making his presence felt and driving the business forward.”

He joins a long list of ’42 under 42′ alumni, in an exclusive club that is now nearly 1,000 strong.

Click here and scroll across to read Derek’s commendation.

29.10.2013
Optionis makes Blakemore sales director

Optionis, home to employment services provider Parasol and contractor accountant ClearSky, has promoted Jeff Blakemore to the role of sales director (workforce management).

Jeff Blakemore Jeff Blakemore joined the Optionis group in August 2011 as group head of sales, and since then has secured a series of new business wins.

The 38-year-old Lancashire resident has also overseen a re-organisation of the group’s business development operation.

Earlier this month Parasol, which provides outsourced employment solutions to more than 2,500 UK recruitment firms, secured its highest number of weekly contractor employee registrations since April 2010.
ClearSky Accounting has undergone rapid growth to become the UK’s 87th largest accountancy provider – recording the second highest revenue growth of any firm to feature in a recent ‘top 100’ list.

The group’s ‘best advice’ team offers guidance to contractors and freelancers on whether to join Parasol as a contractor employee or set up a Limited company through ClearSky.

Derek Kelly, managing director at Optionis, said: “Jeff has been instrumental in our success since joining us two years ago, and he fully deserves this promotion.
“His new role will allow Jeff to focus on building and maintaining relationships with Britain’s biggest staffing firms and employers, and growing our presence in key growth sectors.”

Blakemore added: “I’m naturally thrilled to be promoted, and am looking forward to getting stuck into my new role.

“This change is testament to the hard work, creativity and commitment of our entire sales and business development team over the past two years.

“There is a tangible sense of optimism throughout the entire contractor recruitment supply chain at the moment, so it’s an exciting time for us.

“Demand for skilled, professional contractors is growing as the UK’s economic prospects finally improve. There are plenty of opportunities out there, and we’re determined to capitalise on them.”

25.10.2013
Merseyside SMEs invited to employment law seminar

ClearSky HR, part of ClearSky Business, is hosting an employment law breakfast seminar in Liverpool next month.

The free event is aimed at small business owners keen to protect themselves from the risk of tribunal claims.

It takes place from 8am -10am on Thursday, 14th November 2013 at the Liverpool Marriott Hotel City Centre, One Queen Square, Liverpool, L1 1RH.

Visit the ClearSky Business website for full details.

24.10.2013
Rapidly-growing Warrington firm expands and commits to town

A Warrington-headquartered professional services group has taken on a second office in the town amid a major programme of growth and job creation.

Optionis, which provides support services to small businesses, recruitment firms and freelancers, has expanded into a vacant two-storey building on Centre Park that sits just 300 metres from its current office, Optionis House.

The decision to invest in additional office space follows an increase in head office staff numbers from 132 to 168 in the past 12 months, as Optionis looks to satisfy growing demand for its services.

A thriving apprenticeship scheme has resulted in more than 25 trainees being taken on during the same period.

A total of 54 existing members of staff working in central functions such as finance, HR, IT, credit control and marketing have moved to the new premises – freeing up some much-needed space at Optionis House and paving the way for further job creation at both sites.

Derek Kelly, managing director at Optionis, said: “This expansion marks a significant step in the growth and evolution of Optionis.

“We have been a major employer in Warrington for several years, and it’s great to be able to commit to the town for the foreseeable future.

“Our headcount has been rising steadily, and we reached the point where we had simply outgrown our existing office.

“At 5,500 sq ft, the new building is nearly as big as Optionis House in terms of floor space, so there will be plenty of room to accommodate new recruits at both sites as we continue to grow.”

Optionis, which also has bases in Manchester, London, Poole and Dorchester, recorded group turnover of £381.2m in the year to April 2012.

The group is home to Parasol, the UK’s largest professional employment organisation (PEO), freelancer and small business services provider ClearSky and cloud-based sales performance management software Silverline.

Property agents DTZ completed the letting of Optionis’ new Centre Park premises. An 11-year lease has been taken out following a six-figure refurbishment project.
Optionis chief executive Rob Crossland said: “As a group we continue to invest, evolve and grow. We are in the business of long-term sustainable growth, and this investment is critical to that journey.

“The future is looking bright, and the new premises will enable us to achieve our ambitious growth plans as we look to 2014 and beyond.”

Steve Park, managing director at Warrington & Co – Warrington’s partnership for driving growth – said: “We’re thrilled that Optionis has made this long-term commitment to Warrington, and that Warrington & Co was able to assist and work with the business to help facilitate its expansion requirements.

“Business investment is a key ingredient of Warrington’s economic and social revival, and organisations like Optionis are at the heart of this.

“By creating and supporting jobs, investing in commercial property and offering work opportunities to young people through apprenticeships, Optionis is showing itself to be a force for good.

“The company deserves credit for its forward-thinking and ambitious approach to business.”

16.10.2013
Optionis completes second takeover of 2013

Business and freelancer support provider Optionis has completed its second acquisition of 2013, as it looks to establish its ClearSky brand as a ‘one-stop shop’ for small firms.

Dorset-based accountancy firm Lofts & Co, which specialises in providing tax advice to small businesses and wealthy individuals, has become the newest member of the Optionis group.

Under the terms of the deal Lofts & Co, which has four members of staff and more than 150 active clients, will become part of ClearSky Accounting.

Founder Malcolm Lofts will continue to play an active role in the business.

The acquisition has been completed as ClearSky launches a new website – www.clearskybusiness.co.uk – to showcase its full suite of support services for small firms, including accountancy, payroll and HR (human resources).

Derek Kelly, managing director at Optionis, said: “This is an extremely exciting point in the growth of Optionis and ClearSky in particular.

“The acquisition of Lofts & Co, a well-established practice with an excellent reputation and expertise in inheritance tax, trusts and tax planning, will broaden our offering to businesses and individuals.

“Crucially, it will also support our aim of establishing ClearSky as the ‘go-to’ source of fixed-fee advice and guidance for Britain’s small businesses.

“The deal underlines our determination to grow despite ongoing uncertainty over the resilience of the economic recovery. Our next strategic acquisition is already in the pipeline and should hopefully be completed in late 2013 or early 2014.”

The value of the Lofts & Co deal has not been disclosed. DWF advised Optionis on the deal, while financial due diligence was conducted internally.

Malcolm Lofts said: “We’re excited to become part of the Optionis family, which in ClearSky boasts one of the UK’s fastest growing accountancy firms.

“We are looking forward to offering our valued clients exciting opportunities to benefit from the additional expertise made possible by this agreement.”

Group turnover at Optionis in the year to April 2012 was £381.2m. The group employs more than 200 head office staff across four sites; Warrington, Manchester, Poole and London.

ClearSky Accounting is the UK’s 87th largest accountancy firm by annual fee income, and last year recorded the second highest revenue growth of any of the country’s top 100 providers.

The acquisition of Lofts & Co follows Optionis’s takeover of Manchester-based accountancy firm, Michael Brookes & Co, in May 2013.

15.10.2013
Parasol enjoys best week since 2010

Employment services provider Parasol has enjoyed its best week of new joiner registrations in more than three years.

The Optionis group company put the spike in contractor employee registrations down to recent signs of an economic recovery, and a subsequent increase in confidence amongst would-be contractors.

Click here to read more.

11.10.2013
Immigration Bill: Parasol reaction features on BBC News website

Parasol, part of the Optionis group, has warned that the Immigration Bill represents a missed opportunity to punish firms that hire illegal workers.

Reacting to the publication of the legislation, Parasol managing director Derek Kelly claimed the bill would fail to deter rogue employers.

His comments were included in this analysis piece on the BBC News website.

Click here to read the full press release on the Parasol website.

07.10.2013
All-new ClearSky Business website goes live

This week has seen the launch of a brand new website by the Optionis group – www.clearskybusiness.co.uk.

The ClearSky Business website is a “one-stop shop” showcasing our full suite of support services for small and medium-sized business, including accounting, payroll and HR.

We have developed smart new interactive pricing tables for our accounting and payroll services, so clients can easily get a quote for what they need. This reinforces ClearSky’s commitment to transparent pricing.

We have also built a news & blog section that is designed to act as a source of informative, relevant content for ClearSky clients and the small-business community in general.

The articles we produce will enable small businesses to stay up to date with important developments as we strive to establish ClearSky as the ‘go-to’ source of information, advice and guidance for Britain’s small businesses.

Visit the new website now to take a look around!

25.09.2013
Small enterprises manage growth despite tough trading conditions

Despite tough trading conditions that saw average hourly earnings fall by over 6% since 2011, 30% of freelancers, contractors and small businesses managed to increase their profits over the last 12 months (the 2012/13 financial year).

According to Optionis research, this sector showed its resilience with many entrepreneurs rising to the challenge, possibly working longer hours, finding greater efficiencies or expanding into new more profitable markets.

Only 15% of enterprises reported that earnings had fallen over the same period.

Confidence of this financial growth being sustained is still relatively low. Only 20% of entrepreneurs are confident of predicting growth with 54% expecting to stand still.

Read the full results of our research and let us know if this matches your experience.

24.09.2013
Parasol celebrates major milestone

Parasol, the UK’s largest professional employment organisation (PEO), has marked another key milestone by employing its 70,000th career contractor.

The Cheshire-based company, founded by Rob Crossland in 2000, has praised its contractor employees for their “skill, creativity and sheer hard work” during the past 13 years.

Click here to read more.

23.09.2013
North of England tops league table for business mobility

The North of England is the UK’s boom area for growth, according to our new league table of business mobility.

For our Get on and Grow report, we’ve tracked the experiences of over 7,000 freelancers, contractors and small businesses since 2011, looking at how many are gearing up for growth.

The table shows the propensity for entrepreneurs to make the move from operating as a freelancer or contractor to organising themselves as a limited company.

We also looked at how many have given up their own business ventures and gone back to full-time employment.

This measure of entrepreneurial mobility (both up and down the scale) shows how well smaller enterprises are faring in the UK economy and, as such, can be seen as a key indicator of business conditions and confidence.

The North East and Yorkshire were found to have the highest rates of upward mobility, with 3.14% of freelancers or contractors establishing limited companies in the first two quarters of 2013. This was closely followed by the North West of England with a rate of 3.07%.



The research also shows the rate at which these numbers have increased since 2011, the height of the business downturn.  For the UK as a whole, the rate at which entrepreneurs are forming limited companies has increased by 70%. This is highest in Scotland where the increase has been 467%.

These increases tell us three things about perceptions of the UK economy:
  1. Entrepreneurs are gaining more confidence in their earning potential
  2. They are more confident of business opportunities lasting in the long term
  3. Entrepreneurs are willing to commit more time to running their businesses because they expect to reap greater rewards
Read our full report for the full details.

13.09.2013
ClearSky Accounting to host Edinburgh event

ClearSky Accounting is hosting a free drop-in advice session in Edinburgh.

The event, which is aimed at small business owners, freelancers, contractors, sole traders and start-ups, will take place at the Edinburgh Thistle Hotel on Thursday 24th October.

Attendees will be able to speak to ClearSky’s qualified, experienced experts on a one-to-one basis.

ClearSky Accounting has hosted similar events in London, Manchester and Reading during the past year.

Click here for more information and to reserve your place.

11.09.2013
Employment law advice on offer for North West SMEs

Free event – Rochdale on Thursday, 19th September 2013

ClearSky HR, which provides fixed-fee advice on employment law to small businesses, is holding a breakfast seminar in Greater Manchester.

The free event, called ‘Employment law: how small businesses can stay out of trouble’, takes place in Rochdale on Thursday, 19th September 2013.

Free refreshments are available from 8am, with the event starting at 8.30am. Early booking is recommended as places are limited.

To reserve your place, call 0808 147 1921 or email events@clearsky-hr.co.uk with your name, company and a contact telephone number.

The seminar will be held at the Mercure Manchester Norton Grange Hotel and Spa, Castleton, Rochdale, OL11 2XZ.

Click here for more information.

11.09.2013
Optionis launches first ‘Get on and Grow’ report

We’re proud to announce the launch of our new Get on and Grow reports.
This is the first in a series of reports tracking the performance of smaller enterprises across the UK.

In these reports we’ll detail the business environment for freelancers, contractors and small businesses. We’ll also highlight and challenge issues that make getting on with day-to-day business more difficult than it needs to be.



Whilst there are many reports on the state of business in the UK, none focus on the experiences of these small enterprises exclusively. We believe this is a major gap as they are a crucial part of the business eco-system.

This sector is the testing ground for the next generation of budding business people. Assessing their experiences and future expectations is a key indicator of the wider economy’s strength.

This report examines a number of these indicators, for example regional trends in business growth and differences between male and female entrepreneurs.

We also take an in-depth look at how banks are supporting smaller enterprises and what more they could be doing to help.

We’re planning future editions now and would really value your feedback or any suggestions for other topics we could investigate.

Let us know emailing info@optionis.co.uk or calling 0800 458 0818.

09.09.2013
Parasol Connect goes live after major investment

Parasol has launched its new contractor management tool for recruiters.

The online portal, called Parasol Connect, cost £100,000 to develop and is designed to significantly reduce the amount of time recruitment consultants spend on contractor assignment administration.

New features include improved functionality for contract amendments and a simpler search facility, making it quicker and easier to find existing contracts and contractors.

A new reporting facility and notice board have also been included.

Click here to read the full press release and find out more about Parasol Connect.

05.09.2013
Warrington council chief backs company’s apprentice recruitment drive

Trainees at a Cheshire-headquartered professional services group will get a taste of TV shows The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den thanks to a National Apprenticeship Week challenge.

More than 25 apprentices at Optionis in Warrington will be split into teams and tasked with creating a presentation or marketing campaign to encourage young people to consider an apprenticeship.

The various pitches will be judged by a three-strong panel comprising Warrington South MP David Mowat, Warrington & Co managing director Steve Park and Optionis chief executive Rob Crossland.

A prize will also be presented to the winner of the company’s inaugural ‘Apprentice of the Year’ award, with submissions being assessed by Optionis senior managers.

The judging panel and presentation will take place at the company’s premises on Centre Park in Warrington on Friday, 7th March – the last day of National Apprenticeship Week 2014.

“As a group we have invested heavily in our apprenticeship programme, and we now have trainees playing key roles throughout most business units and departments”, said Rob.

“I for one have been extremely impressed by the talent, dedication and work ethic I have witnessed”, he added.

“National Apprenticeship Week is the perfect occasion to recognise and celebrate the vital contribution made by our trainees. I’m looking forward to seeing the ideas they come up with.”

Optionis employs around 250 staff across sites in Warrington, Greater Manchester, London, Poole and Dorchester. That number is expected to reach 350 by March 2016.

The group is home to employment services provider Parasol, small business and contractor support specialist ClearSky and cloud-based sales performance management software Silverline.

Optionis trainees work towards recognised academic qualifications during their first 12 months with the group, with the opportunity to secure permanent contracts once they complete their apprenticeship.

The company works closely with Warrington Collegiate and other training providers in the area to create tailored study programmes for its apprentices.

Adam Swift, 18, a marketing apprentice at Optionis, said: “For me, being able to earn money at the same time as getting experience in a busy marketing department is brilliant.

“Everyone here is really friendly and I have been given some interesting projects to get my teeth into. Some of my friends have gone to university, but for me it’s good to get used to the routine of a working week, and get that experience under my belt.

“Hopefully I will be able to get a permanent job here once I’ve completed my apprenticeship.”

To register your interest in the Optionis apprenticeship scheme, email recruitment@optionis.co.uk with your CV, area of interest and a covering letter explaining your reasons for wanting to become an Optionis apprentice.

29.08.2013
ClearSky MD speaks out on contractor accountant scandal

ClearSky Accounting managing director Derek Kelly has condemned as “pointless” a 14-year ban for a contractor accountant who defrauded his clients.

Mr Kelly told news site Contractor UK that the punishment was ineffective as the offender, Darren Upton, would still be able to play an active role in business without being a named director.

Instead, Mr Kelly believes the authorities should have seized the offender’s personal assets.

Click here to read the full article.

28.08.2013
ClearSky HR looks to challenge employment law “oligopoly”

Employment law and health & safety advice provider ClearSky HR claims the sector is failing small and medium-sized businesses, and is vowing to shake things up.

Part of the Optionis group, ClearSky HR offers clients fixed-fee advice plus the flexibility of monthly rolling contracts with no minimum term.

This is in stark contrast to the sector’s more established companies, which tend to sign clients up to long-term contracts.

ClearSky has cited the recent acquisition of Bibby Consulting & Support by market leader Citation as further evidence of an “oligopoly” in the sector.

ClearSky HR managing director Derek Kelly believes small businesses have been getting a raw deal from the sector’s “sprawling behemoths”.

He said: “We’re here to let SMEs know that there is another way.”

Click here to read the full press release.

23.08.2013
Offshore umbrella crackdown welcomed by Parasol

Parasol has given its backing to proposed legislation designed to clamp down on tax avoidance by offshore umbrella companies.

However, managing director Derek Kelly would like to see clear guidance from HMRC on how recruitment firms should check an umbrella company’s tax status.

This, he believes, would enable compliant providers such as Parasol to demonstrate their legitimate onshore status to staffing firms.

Without such clarification, Parasol is concerned that the legislation - due to come into force 2014 – could cause chaos in the contractor recruitment supply chain.

Read the full press release here.

21.08.2013
Parasol agrees Flex deal with judicial services giant

Parasol has secured a workforce management contract under its new Flex solution.

The arrangement will see Parasol provide employment services to trainee enforcement agents of Marston, the UK’s largest judicial services group.

Parasol will employ around 400 trainee enforcement agents on behalf of Marston every year, saving Marston time and money and – in the words of the company’s finance director John Crichton – enabling it to become more efficient.

Read the full story, and find out more about Parasol Flex, by clicking here.

21.08.2013
ClearSky Accounting shortlisted for industry award

Optionis company ClearSky Accounting has been confirmed as a finalist in the 2013 North West Finance Awards.

The accolade follows a groundbreaking year for ClearSky, during which it attracted 1,625 new clients and doubled its fee income.

ClearSky is proud to have been shortlisted in the ‘Accountancy Firm of the Year (up to 5 partners)’ category.

The award ceremony takes place on Thursday 26 September at Bolton’s Reebok Stadium. Read more here.
30.07.2013
Rapid growth propels ClearSky Accounting into industry elite

ClearSky Accounting, part of the Optionis group, has been included in a leading industry guide following a year of strong growth.

ClearSky features in the 2013 Accountancy Age Top 50 + 50, which lists the UK’s biggest accountancy firms by fee income.

The company enjoyed the second highest fee income growth of any firm on the prestigious list, securing 87th spot.

Click here to read the full press release.

24.07.2013
Parasol contractor employees embrace workplace pensions

Parasol, the UK’s largest professional employment organisation (PEO), today revealed the initial opt-out figures for its auto-enrolment pension solution for contractor employees.

Of more than 4,000 individuals enrolled in a workplace pension by Parasol under the new legislation, only 524  - or 12.8% - have opted out.

Parasol originally forecast an opt-out rate of around 50%, and described the true figure as surprising.

Click here to read the full press release.

07.06.2013
Optionis’ MD contributes to ContractorCalculator article

Parasol’s Managing Director, Derek Kelly, contributed to a recent ContractorCalculator article discussing the potential problems around antenatal appointments and maternity leave for contractors. Click here for full article.

05.06.2013
Optionis continues its expansion

ClearSky Accounting has acquired Manchester-based accountancy firm, Michael Brookes & Co, as part of its ongoing expansion plans.

ClearSky is the accountancy arm of the Optionis Group, which consists of professional employment organisation Parasol, ClearSky Accounting and ClearSky HR. Optionis employs more than 190 head office staff, and has offices in Warrington, London, Poole and now Manchester.

The Optionis brand was launched with the intention of expanding to offer a full range of support services to businesses and contractors. Michael Brookes & Co accountants specialises in providing expert advice to small businesses. The firm also has niche practices targeted at the licensed trade, taxi sector and entertainment industry, making it the ideal complement to Optionis’ ClearSky brands.

Commenting on the deal, Rob Crossland, CEO of Optionis, said: “The acquisition of Michael Brookes & Co is a natural progression in our growth process. We are already one of the top 100 firms of accountants operating in the UK.  This acquisition, which is the first of a number planned this year, allows us to strengthen this position.

“Michael Brookes & Co provides business services to SMEs, so fits in with the ClearSky part of our business portfolio. The expertise and skill set of the firm will add to the existing services we offer, bringing further benefits and advantages to our clients.”

Derek Kelly, Managing Director of Optionis, continued: “Our latest acquisition will see ClearSky expanding to become a leading SME accountant, building on our reputation as a leading contractor accountant. We are looking to shake up the traditional accountancy market by providing expert-led advice, supported by cutting edge technology. We envisage that the changes we are going to make will reform the accountancy sector in the same way that internet banking has revolutionised the banking sector.”

Optionis boasts a turnover in excess of £350m. To date, the Group has looked after the needs of some 53,000 employees, 10,000 businesses and forged partnerships with 2,500 recruitment agencies.

10.05.2013
Optionis launches its largest ever Apprenticeship Scheme with 20 roles

Professional workforce management and SME support business, Optionis, has launched its largest ever Apprenticeship Scheme, with 20 vacancies across its Parasol, Clearsky HR, ClearSky Accounting and Silverline brands.

Optionis employs more than 150 permanent staff members at its head office, and its apprentices work towards recognised academic qualifications during their first 12 months with the Group.  The apprentices receive clear targets and objectives, with the opportunity to secure permanent contracts once they complete their apprenticeship.

The scheme, which was launched in 2011, includes roles throughout the company in the expenses, human resources, sales ledger, contracts and assignments, IT, marketing and accounts departments.

The apprentices will benefit from hands-on experience to help them develop their skills, as well as receiving study support and a tailored development programme. The scheme also features a buddy system, with someone available to provide advice and guidance throughout the apprenticeship.

Rachel Eaton, who is currently an apprentice at ClearSky Accounting, commented: “The Optionis Apprenticeship Scheme is a fantastic opportunity for anyone starting out in their career. From the outset I was given responsibility and I have learnt a great deal by working closely with my colleagues.  I have also been able to put the theory learned in college into practice in the workplace. I am thoroughly enjoying my time as an Optionis apprentice and would definitely recommend the scheme to others.”

Speaking about the scheme, Derek Kelly, managing director at Optionis, commented: “The Optionis Apprenticeship Scheme has now become firmly entrenched within the company. It provides a fantastic way to help young people to find out about business whilst gaining invaluable skills. It is also beneficial for us as the apprentices inject new ideas and thinking into the business.”

The Optionis group is home to Parasol, the UK’s largest professional employment organisation (PEO), accountancy and HR services provider ClearSky and cloud-based performance management software Silverline. Optionis has offices in Warrington, Poole and London.

To register your interest in the apprenticeship scheme, email recruitment@parasolgroup.co.uk with your CV, your areas of interest and a covering letter explaining your reasons for wanting to become an Optionis apprentice.

09.05.2013
Contractor umbrella company checklist updated

Parasol’s Managing Director, Derek Kelly, has been working with ContractorCalculator to update its advice checklist for contractors.

The checklist, “Contractor Umbrella Pricing – Costs and Benefits to Consider”, which is available as a free download, now includes questions on the Agency Workers Regulations (AWR), benefits and margins.

Umbrella company contractors fall within the scope of AWR, so it is vital for them to ensure that their service providers are compliant. AWR legislation came into force in October 2011, but there are still service providers who have not updated their systems to accommodate these changes, potentially putting contractors at risk.

Describing the updated advice, Derek Kelly commented: “Fundamentally, the contracting service provider sector has not changed since the checklist was first published in early 2010, but there have been some important changes that may influence contractors’ choice of umbrella company.”

Umbrella contractors are employed by the service provider so should, in theory, enjoy the full range of benefits that come with employment. When selecting a service provider, contractors are advised to enquire about pension auto-enrolment and other statutory benefits. They should also beware of unscrupulous umbrella companies offering benefits which are inappropriate for umbrella contractors in a bid to bolster business.

Derek Kelly explained: “If the service provider claims to offer childcare vouchers on a salary sacrifice basis, the contractor should ask if the vouchers are still offered when they are not working, because if they are not being provided, then the umbrella is not compliant.”

To download your copy of “Contractor Umbrella Pricing – Costs and Benefits to Consider”, please click here.

If you would like further information, or if you are interested in joining Parasol, please contact us on 0800 458 0818.

21.03.2013
Spring 2013 Budget Response

In response to this year’s budget, Derek Kelly, Managing Director of Optionis group, which includes Parasol, ClearSky Accounting, ClearSky HR, and Silverline, commented:

“2013’s Budget lacked the impact of last year’s radical announcement, although it did contain some positive points concerning corporation tax, childcare provision and NIC relief. Government assistance with all of these issues will no doubt be welcomed by SME owners and contractors alike, but the major problem with the announcement was the timing. Almost all the benefits earmarked for business will take place in the future, while plans for today, tomorrow or even this year were conspicuous by their absence.

“The introduction of the Employment Allowance, which will take £2,000 off every company’s National Insurance bill from April next year, will be beneficial for SMEs. For 450,000 small businesses this will effectively mean paying no jobs tax at all, removing barriers to employment for start-up companies and one man bands who have up until now been deterred from hiring staff by prohibitive costs.

“Other good news for businesses included the introduction of more generous shareholder status, Capital Gains Tax relief on sales of business to workers, and an increase of 100% on tax free loans for items such as commuters’ season tickets. There will also be a reduction in stamp duty on shares in growth markets such as AIM. Again, the intention is there and all of these measures will be beneficial to SMEs, when they eventually take effect.

“The Chancellor also focussed on tax avoidance and evasion measures, which are aimed at recouping £3bn in unpaid taxes. While tax evasion needs to be dealt with, it must be remembered that tax planning is a legitimate activity. Some of the knee-jerk proposals to deal with tax evasion could have a negative impact on contractors – the key issue here is to ensure that the correct amount of tax is paid, not the highest amount. Legislation to combat offshore tax evasion already exists and should be utilised properly before additional, complicated laws are introduced.

“The UK’s transport infrastructure system received another major boost, with £3bn being earmarked for new projects to improve the country’s ‘economic arteries’ each year from 2015-2020. This is positive news for workers in the transport sector, with the promise of new jobs and opportunities. Improved transport systems will benefit flexible workers and enable contractors to spend more time working and less time on the road. The shale gas industry will also receive investment, which is good news for contractors and staffing businesses in this sector.

“Fortunately the Chancellor did not announce any temporary cuts in VAT. While a reduction in VAT would have grabbed headlines, it would also have created havoc in businesses, negatively impacting on processes and systems.

“While many elements of the 2013 Budget are good in theory, the problem is that they are conditional and belong in the future. What we really need are immediate measures, such as the scrapping of September’s fuel tax, which will benefit companies’ bottom line straight away. While the Treasury has labelled this the ‘aspiration nation’ Budget, the danger is that in reality its lack of detail could mean that it will run out of steam long before it inspires people to invest.”

19.03.2013
Optionis CEO contributes to an article in Recruiter magazine

Feeling unfairly targeted…

Optionis Chief Executive, Rob Crossland, contributed to a recent Recruiter magazine article looking at how the UK’s flexible workforce feels it’s being unfairly targeted by the latest treasury review. Read the full article here.

01.03.2013
Optionis launches apprentice recruitment drive

The Optionis group is planning to take on at least 15 new recruits this year as it expands its successful apprenticeship scheme, which was launched in 2011.

The announcement comes ahead of the sixth annual National Apprenticeship Week, which runs from 5th – 11th March and celebrates the positive impact apprenticeships have on individuals, businesses and the wider economy.

Apprentices at Optionis, which employs more than 150 permanent staff members at its head office on Centre Park, work towards recognised academic qualifications and are allocated a mentor as part of the group’s ‘buddy’ programme.

Trainees work with their line manager to develop a ‘career map’ and are given clear targets and objectives, with the opportunity to secure a permanent contract once they have completed their apprenticeship.

Derek Kelly, managing director at Optionis, believes the company’s apprenticeship scheme has been a huge success to date, and is looking forward to expanding it even further.

He said: “Of the apprentices we have taken on so far, all but one has been offered full-time employment. Unlike some so-called apprenticeship schemes, this is not about exploiting cheap labour. This is a genuine partnership with our apprentices, who bring energy, commitment and a willingness to learn. In return we offer training, knowledge and a permanent job on proper rates of pay at the end of the journey from apprentice to full-time team member.

Derek added: “Young people get a bad press but the apprentices who have joined us so far have displayed tremendous enthusiasm, creativity and dedication, and have been a credit to their generation. It’s no secret that the jobs market is tough at the moment, so we are pleased to be able offer these opportunities.

“We have 11 fantastic apprentices with us already, and I’m sure the new intake will be just as impressive. The practical experience they gain will set them apart from many of their peers, and give them an invaluable insight into working life.”

The Optionis group is home to Parasol, the UK’s largest professional employment organisation (PEO), accountancy and HR services provider ClearSky and cloud-based performance management software Silverline. Optionis also has offices in Poole and London.

Apprenticeship opportunities will be available across several departments including IT, accountancy, sales, marketing and payroll.

Group head of HR Helen Pedder said: “Since launching our apprenticeship scheme two years ago, we have seen that it works for the apprentices and for the business as a whole. We work closely with local training providers and colleges, and the calibre of the apprentices that have come to us has been extremely high.

“I think our business is the perfect size for apprentices – we aren’t so big that they find it intimidating, but we’re big enough to enable them to gain varied experience and get involved in different areas. We take great care to ensure each apprentice is given clear targets and objectives that fit into their department’s objectives. This is extremely important as it empowers them and enables them to take responsibility for their role.”

30.01.2013
ClearSky records 45% turnover increase

ClearSky Accounting is planning further growth in 2013 after increasing turnover by 45% last year.

ClearSky recorded revenues of £4.33m between January and December 2012 – up from £2.99m the previous 12 months.

The company has now looked after more than 8,000 SMEs, sole traders, freelancers and contractors since its launch in 1995.

Read the full press release here

29.01.2013
Optionis MD has say on HS2 debate
Optionis managing director Derek Kelly appeared on BBC North West Tonight to discuss the impact of high-speed rail (HS2) on the group’s home town of Warrington.

The government announced the proposed route for the new line north of Birmingham yesterday, and Warrington was not included on the list of stops.

Derek raised concerns over the long-term impact on the town, suggesting it could lose out to Manchester as a business destination if the government goes ahead with the proposed route in its current form.

28.01.2013
Staffing businesses turning to PSLs

Recruitment businesses are increasingly adopting a pro-active approach to supply chain management, according to Parasol.

The UK’s largest professional employment organisation says pension auto-enrolment has convinced many agencies to draw up a preferred supplier list (PSL) in a bid to mitigate exposure to financial and reputational risk.

Anita Whittle, chief operating officer at Parasol, said: “If a provider cannot demonstrate that it is the employer of record for a contractor or flexible worker, the agency or its client could be left to pick up the tab for that worker’s pension.”

Click here to read more

15.01.2013
Parasol updates business expenses process

Professional employment organisation Parasol has announced changes to its business expenses process for contractor employees.

Parasol is choosing to allow only statutory non-receipted allowance claims to be submitted by employees for food and accommodation.

The changes, which are being introduced in February 2013, will protect Parasol employees and underline the company’s commitment to compliance.

Parasol is urging other providers in the industry to follow its lead.

Read the full press release here.

11.01.2013
Silverline teams up with UK Recruiter

Cloud-based performance management software, part of the Optionis group, is sponsoring a UK Recruiter event aimed at directors of recruitment agencies and staffing businesses.

The session takes place from 3pm – 6pm on Tuesday 12th February at 250 Bishopsgate, RBS offices, London.

Click here for more information on the event, and details of how to reserve your place.

09.01.2013
ClearSky HR holds breakfast seminar for small businesses

ClearSky HR, the HR advice and support service for SMEs, is holding a breakfast seminar for small business owners.

The free event takes place at the De Vere Village Hotel, Centre Park, Warrington, on Thursday, 31st January from 8am – 10am.

Juliet Byrne, legal advisor at ClearSky HR, will deliver a presentation offering advice on a range of HR and employment law issues that affect small businesses. Read our press release about the event here.

11.12.2012
Recruitment industry guru shares insights

Silverline teamed up with recruitment industry expert Mike Walmsley to host a webinar exploring key issues around KPI management.

The interactive webinar offered insights on how effective monitoring of KPIs can be used to increase an agency’s profitability and efficiency.

You can view the webinar – the first of several that Silverline will be holding over the coming months – by clicking here.


05.12.2012
Autumn Statement welcomed by ClearSky Accounting

George Osborne’s Autumn Statement has been welcomed by ClearSky Accounting, part of the Optionis group.

Derek Kelly, managing director at ClearSky, said the Chancellor’s “mini-budget” contained several measures to cheer contractors and small businesses.

To read the full story, click here.

30.11.2012
Parasol COO speaks at pension workshop for recruiters

Parasol’s Anita Whittle addressed a group of recruitment industry bosses at a workshop focusing on the impact of pension auto-enrolment legislation.

Anita, chief operating officer at Parasol, was one of several industry experts to speak at the event, which took place in central London and was organised in association with the Institute of Recruiters.

Click the link to watch Anita discussing the impact of auto-enrolment on recruitment agencies in a series of short videos.

06.11.2012
BBC seeks our views on Warrington high-speed rail debate

Optionis managing director Derek Kelly has had his say on the Government’s high-speed rail (HS2) proposals, amid speculation that the route could bypass Warrington.

The Warrington Guardian revealed in October that the town, home to Optionis group’s head office, had been “left off a list of station calling points” in a report examining the likely impact of the new rail link.

The proposed route north of Birmingham is expected to be officially announced by the end of the year.

The fear is that if towns like Warrington are bypassed by the new route, they will lose out to cities such as Manchester.

Derek told the BBC’s Sunday Politics North West that good rail links with the capital were vital for the company, which employs more than 130 people at its office on Centre Park in Warrington, and also has offices in London and Poole in Dorset.

You can watch the interview, which was first broadcast on Sunday, November 5, below.



This content is the property of the BBC. To watch the episode in full via BBC iPlayer, click here.

01.10.2012
Media Reaction to Optionis Launch

Media Reaction to Optionis Launch

The media have responded favourably to Optionis’ launch announcement.

The Manchester Evening News reported on the group’s ambitions “to start offering legal services to SMEs during the first half of 2013, including acting on property leases, wills and contracts and offering support in relation to employment tribunals.”

The Business Desk added that “the group plans to target growth in the small and medium-sized enterprise market (SME) and offer legal and niche tax services. It says it will either launch or acquire new businesses to achieve its goals.”

27.09.2012
Optionis Chief Exec Makes Commitment to Growth

Optionis Chief Exec Makes Commitment to Growth

Commenting on the launch of Optionis, Rob Crossland, Chief Executive of Optionis said,

“Optionis is a corporate brand that better articulates our group of businesses and their aims and objectives. When we started on our journey as Parasol we were very much focused on being an umbrella company but the group is now so diverse that this is no longer the right brand for the group to sit under.

“Optionis gives us room to innovate and grow our business across a much broader range of activities which in turn allows the businesses we partner with to get on and grow.”

Rob has set out the management team’s vision for Optionis in a three point plan:

• Optionis will target growth in SME support services and expand its offering to include a broader range of services to complement accountancy and HR. The organisation will develop new propositions or entire businesses, for example legal services and niche tax services

• Parasol will continue to build on its reputation as the UK’s number one Professional Employment Organisation (PEO).

• The organisation will either launch or acquire new businesses to achieve its goals. These ‘new’ businesses might focus on the following sectors:

o Workforce Management Services (management, payroll, audit and compliance)

o Targeting growth from a wider range of sectors and workforce types.

o Seeking greater collaboration with recruitment partners, such as AMS and Hays

 
24.09.2012
Optionis Launched as New Name for Parasol Family

Optionis Launched as New Name for Parasol Family

The management team of Parasol, ClearSky and Silverline is happy to announce the creation of a new parent brand for the businesses called Optionis.

Optionis (pronounced op’tee:ownis) comes from Latin and means assistant, helper or enabler. The creation of Optionis is part of a strategy to grow the group by becoming a professional workforce management and SME support business.

Parasol is well known in the UK as being one of the biggest umbrella companies but over time the organisation has widened its proposition to become a professional employment organisation (PEO).

In addition to Parasol, Optionis also includes ClearSky, which provides business services to SMEs, such as accountancy and HR support, and Silverline, a web-based sales performance software tool.

07.08.2012
Global Solutions announces software investment

Global Solutions announces software investment to drive increased international profits and performance

Global Solutions, the specialist international recruiter for the staffing industry, has announced a major innovation with a new software system, Silverline, to help monitor and manage performance targets across its global network.

The investment will also see Silverline deployed for specialist healthcare recruiter Ideal Healthcare, which is also part of the Fraser Brown group.

Silverline is an innovative sales performance management software system launched by Optionis specifically for the staffing industry.

Commenting on the investment, Fraser Brown, group Managing Director, said: “The progress we have made on the international stage since our inception has been fantastic, as evidenced by our move into the health sector with Ideal Healthcare.

“But as a forward thinking business we have very clear goals and objectives set for ourselves, and we are always looking at new and innovative ways to improve performance and profitability.

“By teaming up with Silverline we will be able to do this very quickly and, as the product is based in the cloud, we can deploy the software across all our international territories extremely efficiently.”

Paul Flynn, Commercial Delivery Manager for Silverline, added: “It’s very exciting to see Silverline having an impact on the international stage and helping a leading staffing business improve performance across a multi-national branch network.

“Silverline continues to gain momentum in the UK and, moving forward, we continue to seek out opportunities in other international territories.”

Silverline, which has been developed as a web-based bespoke solution for the staffing industry, allows managers to focus on the key performance metrics that really make a difference to recruiters and their performance and hence profitability.

By utilising multiple data sources in order to create interactive dashboards, Silverline eradicates the need for time-consuming data manipulation and conflicting reports, allowing managers to identify the key metrics that truly affect success.

It also allows individual recruiters to view their own performance metrics allowing them to focus on what they need to do to meet and exceed targets, while fostering competitiveness amongst team members.

Silverline can also help managers to make the important distinction between quality and quantity when it comes to the activity of their team, giving them a greater insight into what works and what doesn’t. This in turn helps to maximise efficiency.

For more information on Silverline visit www.silverlinesales.co.uk, join us on LinkedIn or follow us on Twitter.

03.08.2012
Service providers should step up to protect staffing businesses

Service providers should step up to protect staffing businesses

Service providers in the staffing industry should be stepping up and providing true risk mitigation solutions in order to protect recruitment businesses according to Rob Crossland, Chief Executive of the Parasol group of companies.

Commenting on recent HMRC tribunal decisions, Crossland said: “There is a very fine line between profitability and business failure in the staffing industry and heavy fines and penalties as a result of a tribunal decision going against you can be catastrophic. This affects not only the individual staffing business and their employees but also their clients, the workers they place, and can create negative publicity for our industry as a whole.

“The first lesson to take from recent tribunals is that recruitment businesses are not always best positioned to manage temporary worker remuneration on their own. Their specialism is recruitment and they have the expertise and experience to do this well. They then have the opportunity to partner with an employment services provider to make sure that the workers are managed and paid correctly and compliantly with no impact on their own profitability. Recent tribunal judgements should be a warning to recruitment businesses looking to manage temporary workers in-house that engaging with a specialist service provider is the least risky road to take.

“Selecting the right service provider is the next challenge. In a lot of the cases I see where an employment solutions business has been engaged, the service providers are noticeable by their absence. Ultimately, a lot of the responsibility should lie with them. What advice were they giving? How were they helping their staffing industry partner to mitigate the risks associated with the placement of temporary labour?

“Correctly structured service providers will have a full contract of employment in place, for all of their temporary workers and contractors, which has been tried and tested at tribunal and stood up to scrutiny. Expense dispensations are simply a way of reducing administrative burden, not a marketing tool and should be applied accordingly and salary sacrifice arrangements should be avoided all together. Correctly structured service providers and employment solutions should always ensure that receipts are retained for worker expenses by the worker in case of HMRC inspection and that claims are only made for legitimate expenses at the precise amount of the expense incurred. There are no work-arounds and no exceptions. It’s just not worth the risk.

“The leading providers have worked very hard in recent years and the services we provide are no longer ‘ad-hoc needs must’ add-ons. We are genuine partners in the supply chain for temporary workers who, when engaged with correctly, take on all the risks and responsibilities associated with placing a temporary worker.

17.07.2012
Why is Britain so far behind on the small business curve?

Why is Britain so far behind on the small business curve?

By Optionis Managing Director, Derek Kelly.

Over the weekend I read a fascinating study in the Harvard Business Review under the title ‘The Rise of the Supertemp’ and what struck me was how far behind the UK is in its attitude to professional freelancers, contractors and temporary workers.

The report comes hot on the heels of the recent press stories in the UK that have been critical of public sector organisations having over 2,000 PSCs[i] on their books and what the Government plans to do about it.

I spend a lot of time on this blog championing the cause of the UK’s professional flexible workforce and the valuable contribution they make to the UK Economy. But to view the current juxtaposition between the UK and US media really portrays the UK in a bad light. Someone labelled a ‘supertemp’ in the US is more likely to be accused of being a tax dodger in the UK at the moment and this is fundamentally wrong.

The problem stems from central Government as successive administrations, from both the main political parties, have failed to make the distinction between vulnerable agency workers and the highly skilled, well paid professionals such as those we work with at Optionis. The media also has to take its fair share of the blame as there doesn’t appear to have been much in the way of genuine research done into the subject. I would also be very interested to know the tax and employment arrangements of the columnists and broadcasters calling for a disproportionate reaction from HMRC and the Treasury.

The phrase that jumped out at me from reading the Harvard Business Review was:

“In a global business climate that’s perpetually ambiguous – and that puts a premium on a company’s ability to test ideas and change course on a dime – knowing how best to engage this lower-risk, flexible, and faster talent model can be a source of competitive advantage.”

In one short sentence the authors have given a neat summary of the benefits flexible professionals bring to individual businesses and the economy as a whole, and the UK Government should take note.

What would you do to make the Government take notice? We’d love to hear your views so join our LinkedIn group, or tweet @DerekClearSky and tell us what you think.