PCG hit by ‘internal bickering’

Dispute ends in expulsion

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The Professional Contractors Group (PCG) is best known for its opposition to the Government's plans to introduce a new "stealth" tax which specifically targets contractors. Set up in May 1999 to fight the Government's plans to introduce IR35, the PCG has grown from a single-issue campaign group into a professional trade organisation representing knowledge-based workers in the oil and gas, telecoms, pharmaceuticals and IT sectors.

However, while the PCG has been at war with the Government over the issue, it's emerged that it has also been fighting an internal battle. Their number may only be small, but loud and persistent voices of dissent within the membership have led to "internal bickering" over the last year or so, and resulted in the expulsion of at least two PCG members and court action.

In November last year tensions boiled over to such an extent that a senior member of the PCG posted a bulletin board message telling one of the members to "Fuck off and die" after being asked to provide proof that they were a fully paid up member of the PCG.

That short but to the point comment was directed at Gary Wallage, who admits that he has been a thorn in the PCG's side ever since he began asking questions about how the group was being run.

The PCG claims his fears are groundless. Wallage disagrees. And it is these concerns that lie at the heart of a dispute that some claim may have distracted the PCG in fighting the Government's plan to introduce IR35.

Said Wallage: "These suppliers are paid considerable sums of money… but we don't know if the members are getting value for money.

"I want answers, I want explanations, I want the right to ask question. If we can save money in running the PCG then more can be spent on other member benefits," he said.

But Wallage's fight has landed him in trouble with the PCG and caused a rift between those happy with the status quo, and those seeking to question the running of the group.

Evidence of this tension bubbled over at a PCG committee meeting held in central London in London on November 17 2001.

According to draft minutes seen by The Register it was suggested that the PCG "move towards an open tendering system for all its contracts".

This was dismissed, with the minutes recording that open tendering would be an "onerous and time-consuming task on directors" and that it was "likely that the internal costs would outweigh any potential cost benefits."

It is then that the minutes go on to show the true depth of feeling that surrounded the issue.

"Jane Akshar [chairman of the PCG] interrupted at this point to stress that she did not want this meeting to deteriorate into another attack on suppliers and internal bickering, as there was a lengthy agenda including external items such as the judicial review appeal. She said that the Board of Directors is content that the PCG has value for money suppliers and it is the Board’s duty – together with the Finance Committee – to ensure this."

The minutes continue: "She said that there had been too much criticism and innuendo, which had been damaging the PCG. She said that the PCG had 14,000 members to think about and suggested that some [committee] members concentrate on that rather than their egos. She did not approve of going to an arbitrary open tendering where it is not necessary and didn’t give PCG any benefit."

Relations between the two sides took another twist on February 11 2002 when Wallage was expelled from the PCG. In a letter he was told that the PCG had received "written complaints against [him] for comments posted on various of the PCG forums in breach of the Forum Terms and Conditions."

He was told that his conduct showed that he did "not share the general aims of the PCG and the majority of its members".

In a letter he was told: "Your presence in the PCG is reducing the ability of the Board and key suppliers to service the needs of the wider membership and is proving to be an unacceptable drain on PCG management time and resources."

Despite being expelled, Wallage immediately rejoined the PCG via its online registration system only to be expelled again. But by this time the PCG already had taken his money and Wallage wanted it back.

He did eventually get his £117.50 back membership fee back - but only after he took his claim to the small claims court. In the end, the judge at Preston County Court awarded Wallage £27 - the cost of filing his claim.

There seems little doubt that this acrimonious dispute has caused problems at the PCG. Susan Hughes, a spokesperson for the PCG told The Register: "Some people don't like the way things are done."

She argues that whole process of running the PCG is transparent and has the backing of the vast majority of members.

"We have gone out of the way to answer his questions…but we know he will never be satisfied with the answers," she said.

It's difficult to say whether this is a case of one man's crusade in search of answers, or an example of how a few people can disrupt the work of an online organisation. Ultimately, it's down to the members of the PCG to ensure that their organisation works for them.

As for Wallage, he intends to appeal against his expulsion and rejoin the PCG. If he clears that hurdle, he intends to stand as chairman in a bid to introduce reforms he believes are vital to the future of the PCG. For Wallage, the fight goes on. ®

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