It's been a long 14 months with not a sniff of new work in Penhaligon towers until this week. Brilliant news you would think, and yes, so do we, but like all industry professionals know and the guy waiting for a bus knows, nothing happens then two come along!! So, I have a decision to make.
I had planned on returning to the UK from Italy, where we live, for promised work so I had put into action all the paperwork we now need to cross countries to get to the UK bearing in mind Covid travel restrictions and the Withdrawal Agreement restrictions.
Its our choice to live here in this beautifully chaotic country where doing the ordinary will take three times as long as it should, where the right hand isn't even on the same body as the left hand, and where by the time an Italian citizen reaches 70 years old they will have queued for two years of their life trying to get the documents they need to create the document they actually need!!! We thought red tape was the preserve of the Italians and although they have improved in the last 8 years of living here, most things take an age and the paperless society is a millennia away. It appears now after the Withdrawal Agreement, the UK is taking on that mantle, putting it back into the dark ages of thinking about paperwork first before product or services.
For example for me to bring my tools back into the UK after taking some advice from carnet and trucking specialists and the use of the eponymous government website I now have to declare my tools I need for my work. Before anyone says they are for personal use, I'm afraid that is not the case, and the detail is here. My tools are owned and used by my business and therefore, are currently subject to temporary import status. Very dull indeed and no, it isn't cheaper to buy new tools in the UK!
So back to my decision to make.
I was driving to the French border via a stop to take my PCR covid test in Milan and to wait in a hotel for 24 hours to get my results. I would not have had to go to Milan if the UK border control didn't insist on having the PCR test in one of three languages, English, French or Spanish. There are only certain places that can perform this certificate miracle in Northern Italy so that made my journey more irksome and costly. As a simple idea of costs to do this part of the journey before I left Italy.
A PCR test €75.00 and most places charge an extra €40.00 for the English certificate
Two nights in a hotel €180.00
As some wag on Facebook mentioned, is it that difficult to translate the word Negativo!
For information the list of documents I need to travel between the two countries currently are:
Negative PCR test before you leave Italy and also the certificate in English. This can take a minimum of 24 hours and on my dry run it took over 30 hours which would then limit your travel time to the UK to fit in the 72 hours limit.
Permission to travel in France
Ferry ticket pre booked, you will need these details to prove you are transiting France and also for any customs declaration.
English permission to travel and locator form, It is worth checking the up to date exemptions for some documents here. Its very dull you can't fill out the locator form until at least 48 hours before arrival, which if driving means you have to fill in on the go. A full UK guideline to travel is here.
Also for any UK citizens returning to Italy as residents, you should make sure you have your Carta D'Identita and if possible your Attestazione di Iscrizione Anagraphica which has the article 18.4 of the Withdrawal Agreement on it, to make sure you get back in with no problems.
Whilst sorting the above processes it got me to thinking re the new paper work burden for freelancers, who is to pay for that? Where does the buck stop for the basic cost to the freelancer for processing their own newly needed paperwork. I'm not talking about travel arrangements as above, but customs declarations, visa/permit processes. I have mentioned before the document requirements you will need in previous blogs and I am available to help anyone who has any questions on it. The A1 document is key here as it carries potentially the biggest fines for non compliance. It has to be done per contract so you can't just do one and take it with you as a de facto document. All of these little processes take time. How do you bill for that? Does the daily rate go up? Is there a separate document process fee? (which I am sure clients will love to see). In the current market there is massive pressure to reduce fees for work so increasing them to cover your costs is not going to go down well. Will the tech companies, set companies and production houses of the UK suck this cost up for their teams of freelancers? The recent letters to freelancers from these companies asking Freelancers if they have a European passport and if not they may not be able to use them in Europe would point to the fact that the tech companies and production houses are not going to readily take this on, but why should the freelancer, without a fee increase?
The result? Clients will use foreign based companies and crew to cover their needs!! I am guessing that is why I got the phone call and not a UK company.
So the phone rings while I am in Milan doing my PCR test, after 14 months of silence, a potential client is after a project to cost in Italy and could I do it on a tight turnaround. Anyone who has done anything here knows its the hidden bureaucracy that takes the time and permissions, documents etc that cost the money. The kit cost is pretty much the same, so having a hands on approach I have found is the best way here. The decision I have to make is, do I jettison the promise of work in the UK if I can get over, do I ditch the pre paid ferry cost, the pre paid hotel cost and the pre paid customs declaration all for a potential project that might not happen. Risky business!!
I rang my wife and our other directors and we talked about it, and whether it was our close bond or just the hope that what we have built here in Italy could be taking off again, we thought this may be our life line out of this crisis, we went with "yes, lets ditch the trip for now and see how this pans out".
It was truly lovely to speak to not only a prospective client but a like minded event professional who was very compassionate and helpful and wanted to help us as well, which fired up my passion to get involved and do our best to facilitate the client's needs. I felt back in the fold and alot of the emotions of uselessness and being obsolete have subsided through this connection. 100% the right decision for us, even though we have no spare money to play with, the feeling is back and we are ready to get stuck in.
With the new paperwork issues and more probably because of the lack of reliable information, this is our new market. Clients who can access foreign markets by Zoom and don't set foot outside their office and leave the on the ground work to insitu expats. We have been supplying clients here in Italy since 2014, but we have developed a local supply chain exactly for this market over the last two years, we were Brexit ready, but not Pandemic ready.
There are many organisations and individuals in live events dealing with getting our industry infront of politicians and the APPG. The APPG is mainly concentrating on Covid priorities which is understandable, the DCMS seems to be concentrating on issues around touring with occasional mentions of all paid workers but its important any headway from either body includes all working abroad for all industries and it needs to be brought to the table very quickly. As the UK Government has difficulty in pinning down our industry to a lable, industry groups like One Industry One Voice are increasingly important. Some worthy individuals, among the many, worth mentioning who are fighting our corner are Tim Brennan, Ian Smith and Paul Jones so thanks to them too.
Its a sad turn of events for us all that we have lost the freedom to work in Europe untethered and show why the UK is market leader in so many aspects of Live Events, but whilst these issues exist, maybe dust off your expat connections book and reach out to Europe through them.
I'll be back onto the member states temporary work status I haven't covered yet next week.