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Sunak’s plan is ‘another nightmare’ for profession

Accountants faced with the never-ending treadmill of government guidelines are struggling to balance clients’ needs with their teams’ mental health.

25th Sep 2020
Community Assistant AccountingWEB
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Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak holds a Covid-19 Press Conference in 10 Downing Street.
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Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak holds a Covid-19 Press Conference in 10 Downing Street.

In a bait-and-switch substitute for a full autumn Budget, the Chancellor brought forward his emergency response to public concern about the end of the furlough scheme. Sunak had already signalled that he was not a fan of continuing it, arguing that he could not save every job affected by the devastation of coronavirus. 

Support scheme stress

With businesses in turmoil turning to their accountants for answers, the stress is beginning to tell. And the arrival of yet another support initiative with its own rules and restrictions is going to add to the vast amount of time and energy accountants have already sacrificed this year.

Easing restrictions on public gatherings and socialising triggered a resurgence of the virus and forced the government to take further action. 

In the wake of the new Jobs Support Scheme announced as part of Sunak’s Covid winter plan, employers will pay staff for the hours worked, and the hours not worked will be split between the employer and the government - who will pay a third of the hours not worked up to a cap.

On the eve of the big announcement AccountingWEB was flooded with comments from practitioners on the brink of mental exhaustion. The latest changes came at a time when many are experiencing greater levels of anxiety than ever.

“I wonder how many accountants will be pouring themselves a rather large glass this evening,” wondered one AccountingWEB member in a succinct summary of the community’s reaction to the Chancellor’s plans.

A large majority seemed dismayed at the Chancellor’s new plans, with comments condemning the scheme as “complete rubbish” and “yet another nightmare” for accountants. 

A few members, however, thought the announcement may “actually make things easier” for accountants at least - even if the scheme was effectively “un-economical”

As AccountingWEB member Johnny Fartpants said: “When the clients realise they must send their staff home for two-thirds of the month just to obtain 22.2% in government support, my guess is most will realise this isn't worth it and will cease claiming.”

For a lot of accountants, the Job Support Scheme is just another compliance headache, but the persistent questions they don’t even know the answers to about the scheme added to the ever-increasing burden they are having to carry. Several wondered how far they could be pushed.

The new normal?

The Chancellor stressed that “life means more than simply existing”, saying that the pandemic has shown everyone that we must continue to strive towards normality. But how sustainable is a new normal of relentless stress?

Ray Newman from PracticeWeb commented on the matter: “We’ve been told by several accountants that the worst thing about the constant flow of announcements from government is that the minute Mr Sunak sits down after one of his speeches, the phone starts ringing: How does this work? When can I get the grant? How do I apply?”

For the past six months, accountants have answered these queries and steered their clients through the crisis. All this effort followed on the heels of the traditional tax season workload and before that the extra effort of migrating clients into the making tax digital for VAT regime. Under the strain of all this non-stop effort, one member confessed they felt “physically sick” at the prospect of yet more guidance to come. Another member stated that they had not had a moment’s break since last Christmas Day

“Us payroll processors have worked our guts off without any time to properly read the rules and tried to calculate furlough using our own home designed spreadsheets... while we forfeited holidays and previous family time working all our waking hours for no extra pay,” said Barbara G, who is considering throwing in the towel on her career once all this is over.

“Life is too precious for this stress and personal sacrifice, I'll stay at home for no pay,” she said.

Community Support

Tosie acknowledged the burden the profession is carrying but highlighted how desperately their services were needed: “A large number of clients are at breaking point and a bit of help from us can make the difference between throwing in the towel and struggling on.”

AccountingWEB member jcace added: “It presents an opportunity to demonstrate to clients why they need us. Yes, it may well involve some fast learning, but let's not shrink from earning our fees.”

With the mental health of the profession and their clients hanging on a knife edge, it’s worth highlighting the importance of coming together to share your experiences and feelings on these issues, or anything else causing you stress. You are likely not to be the only one. You can access our Any Answers page here to reach out and talk.

UPDATE: This article was amended on 29 September to clarify the Job Support Scheme guidance. 

Replies (41)

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By AWeb72
26th Sep 2020 09:02

Only AccountingWeb could have an article with the phrase Johnny Fartpants. Any outsider reading this must wonder how professional the site is.

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Replying to AWeb72:
Chris M
By mr. mischief
26th Sep 2020 14:03

Johnny Fartpants for PM in January once Bozo Jo has gone! Go for it JF!

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Replying to mr. mischief:
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By johnny fartpants
28th Sep 2020 10:03

Thanks Mr Mischief. It's nice to know that I can count on your vote!

Unfortunately I won't be standing for election. Too busy tinkering with my Furlough spreadsheets again!! Sigh.

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Replying to AWeb72:
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By Casterbridge Hardy LLP
29th Sep 2020 10:07

You are right on the money with that comment - you have my full endorsement.

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By Rick Deckard
30th Sep 2020 17:05

I for one stand shoulder to shoulder to JF (certainly not fully behind).

He's trumpeting a rally cry for all accountants.

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blue sheep
By NH
26th Sep 2020 20:02

Whats the big deal? Gov pays a third of hours not worked, I don't see anything complicated here, I also cannot see many employers using it - calm down everyone!

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Replying to NH:
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By SXGuy
27th Sep 2020 07:25

Depends what the big deal is in reference to? It's not a big deal in general, can't see it working though. If staff hours genuinely need to be reduced why would the employer want to pay 1/3 of hours not worked just so government top up another

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Replying to SXGuy:
blue sheep
By NH
27th Sep 2020 07:36

well the article heading is that this is a nightmare for accountants - why? hardly any employers will use the scheme and even if they did the calculations are nothing like CJRS

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Replying to NH:
Stepurhan
By stepurhan
28th Sep 2020 11:25

The big deal is having to explain it to clients. Probably needed on an individual level for many as the 1/3 of a 1/3 thing can be confusing. Case in point, the way it is written in this article makes it sound like the employer and government each fund 1/3 of the total hours, not 1/3 of the balance. If someone writing for an accountancy website cannot get it right, how will clients grasp it properly.

The other big deal will be doing the calculations for those that do insist on using it, even though we can see it is almost certainly not worthwhile.

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Replying to stepurhan:
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By Paul Crowley
29th Sep 2020 10:25

'In the wake of the new Jobs Support Scheme announced as part of Sunak’s Covid winter plan, employers will pay staff for the hours worked, plus another third for hours not worked - and the remaining third will be provided by the government.'

Agree Sounds like 3 thirds, so full pay

There are actually 2 remaining thirds not one

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By tonycourt
28th Sep 2020 00:13

I genuinely don't want to hurt the author's feelings but kicking off the article with the wholly inappropriate phrase "bait-and-switch", I guess because you think it makes catchy copy, makes me wonder about the substance of what was to follow; which I'm sorry to say was fairly vacuous. I don't know whose idea the article was but it was a poor one. A waste of time and effort for the reader and the writer.

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By CazzyT
28th Sep 2020 10:09

“I wonder how many accountants will be pouring themselves a rather large glass this evening,”
Me

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By Ian McTernan CTA
28th Sep 2020 12:20

If you are on the 'brink of mental exhaustion' 'totally stressed' or find it all a 'burden' then you are doing it wrong.
Maybe it's time to take a good long look and decide if this is the profession for you. HMRC are always moving the goalposts, this is just more changes on top of the constant changes we need to deal with.
If you find keeping your clients up to date and advising them too difficult, then maybe you have taken on too many and need to take a look at that.
We are here to help our clients navigate through this complex system and let them concentrate on what they are good at, and to lend a hand when times are tough. It's not that hard and it's very rewarding and now is the time to show your clients you care- not moan about having to advise on the latest scheme that is there to help them.
And now the weather is closing in so less opportunity to play fair weather golf for me....

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Replying to Ian McTernan CTA:
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By Diana Miller
29th Sep 2020 10:41

I find this comment quite offensive. The way the last 6 months have impacted on practices depends to a very large extent on the nature of your client base and their own internal resources. We are very good at helping clients navigate complex systems but when you are a small practice with few staff it is very hard to absorb the additional work overnight and still keep the standard compliance work going. Personally I am mentally and physically exhausted so being told that is because I am simply "doing it wrong" is somewhat offensive.

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Replying to Diana Miller:
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By Ian McTernan CTA
29th Sep 2020 10:53

Don't take offense at this response:
Rather than be offended at everything take a look at your life and see what you can improve.
We're all 'doing it wrong' to some extent. When you learn to accept that you might become less 'offended' at everything someone else posts.
If you 'take offence' so easily that might also explain your mental and physical exhaustion to some degree, as getting wound up by a comment on a comments section isn't good for you.

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Replying to Diana Miller:
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By snickersinatwix
29th Sep 2020 11:05

Absolutely 100% agree Diana. Won't say too much more as it may end up being rude and I don't mean to do so, but I am also mentally and physically exhausted and find smug comments like this offensive.

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Replying to Diana Miller:
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By OrmeGoat
29th Sep 2020 13:24

I agree with you Diana. Sadly there's always one.

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Replying to Diana Miller:
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By Paul Crowley
29th Sep 2020 13:46

Concur
Normal compliance did not stop, it increased in time as so many clients had nobody else to talk to and LOTS of spare time
Many new rules developing daily
My 10 team became 3 for a month then 4 for two months. Not my choice, not lack of work but all versions of shielding, childcare and exposure to the actual virus.

Correcting client misunderstanding with care and consideration takes time

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Replying to Diana Miller:
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By murphy1
29th Sep 2020 15:52

Diana,

I feel the exact same, and with a very busy family life could literally run away. Took Friday and Monday off, my only non weekend days off since 1st January, and paying the price today. The burden of a small practice has been incredible over the last few months. We have picked up a number of new clients too, and almost about to turn new business away. Then on Thursday, I had a client query a payslip calculation - one error for £ 4.80 and moved accountants that day!!

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By Robert Hurn
29th Sep 2020 09:37

Why does this profession never stop bleating? Anything that puts cash in client's bank accounts is positive and helps them to pay our fees. Without furlough and the SEISS in particular I fear many clients would not have been able to pay their accountant.

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By cthomas1967
29th Sep 2020 09:38

Barbara G has made a rod for her own back by not charging clients to calculate and submit furlough claims.

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Glenn Martin
By Glenn Martin
29th Sep 2020 09:53

For me the scheme is a non starter and I would love to know who come up with the number of 5m people who will benefit from it.

The cold reality is that businesses working at reduced capacity will have brought their best staff back to work the ones still on furlough have effectively lost their jobs, they just don't know it yet. If the employer only has 10 hours work for someone on a full time contract they will just amend the contracted hours to 10 hours as will not pay out of their own pocket. Staff will have little choice other than to accept as it will that or the highway.

If Rishi thinks businesses on the brink are going to carry staff he had got it wrong. After a solid start things are going down hill fast.

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By Philipbwood
29th Sep 2020 10:49

"Us payroll processors have worked our guts off ...... while we forfeited holidays and previous family time working all our waking hours for no extra pay"
Seems to me that you need to move to a far more team friendly employer, and quickly. Whilst our payroll team have also been working stupid hours to meet client demands, they have certainly been paid for those hours and have not forfeited any holidays whatsoever - and neither should they. We are not working in Victorian times.

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By quintodc
29th Sep 2020 10:53

Coronavirus has never been a "devastation", only lockdown has been. Up until 9 September per NHS figures only 307 people below 60 had died in the UK from coronavirus who had no other underlying health issues. Government are on the path to purposely destroying small businesses because they are under the dictates of the global elite who control everything in this world and are looking for economic reset on a major scale.

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By webpoints
29th Sep 2020 10:56

Thank you and this is a timely article and thread illustrating how accountants are critical workers. That recognition gives entitlement to additional resources for them and their families. With the additional COVID-19 issues such as the furlough and SEISS schemes and their follow-ons, accountants have been supporting payrolls, the self employed, the employed and businesses from the beginning of the COVID-19 period and will be required to do so for as long as this lasts. The current definition of an critical worker is here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-maintain...
The category that applies to accountants would be this one:
Utilities, communication and financial services
This includes:
staff needed for essential financial services provision (including but not limited to workers in banks, building societies and financial market infrastructure)
the oil, gas, electricity and water sectors (including sewerage)
information technology and data infrastructure sector and primary industry supplies to continue during the coronavirus (COVID-19) response
key staff working in the civil nuclear, chemicals, telecommunications (including but not limited to network operations, field engineering, call centre staff, IT and data infrastructure, 999 and 111 critical services)
postal services and delivery
payments providers
waste disposal sectors

On this basis, if we understand that we meet the definition above, then accountants should all proceed on the basis that we are critical workers in order to receive the same level of support as more visible critical workers. It would be helpful if the writer and any other interested parties can now lobby for this confirmation.

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Replying to webpoints:
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By Paul Crowley
29th Sep 2020 13:50

Payroll professional were always in that category.
Agreed and outset By CIPP

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
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By webpoints
30th Sep 2020 17:48

Thanks Paul - good for CIPP!

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By webpoints
29th Sep 2020 10:57

That hyperlink was chopped off and it should be https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-maintain...

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By fawltybasil2575
29th Sep 2020 11:51

@ Tallula Brogan (Author).

Your article includes the following paragraph:-

"In the wake of the new Jobs Support Scheme announced as part of Sunak’s Covid winter plan, employers will pay staff for the hours worked, plus another third for hours not worked - and the remaining third will be provided by the government".

Forgive me, but that paragraph is simply incorrect; albeit many other persons have likewise interpreted the GOV.UK guidance, as received thus far, incorrectly.

In intending no offence, I appreciate (so I assume) that you personally do not have an accountancy background. If such be the case, then may I respectfully suggest that when AWEB produce articles of this nature, they at least request a qualified/experienced person to check them out, so as to avoid misinforming readers.

Basil.

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Replying to fawltybasil2575:
blue sheep
By NH
29th Sep 2020 12:30

At first glance I just thought it was poorly written, at second glance its appears factually incorrect

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By Mr J Andrews
29th Sep 2020 12:19

There must be more money around to splash out from Mr Sunak. Only this past month our local Ealing council has been chucking out bucketloads of money from central Govt into blocking roads under the pretence of creating safer cycling and encouraging Shanks' pony. All this has done is to create more petrol usage , longer journeys, transferring a busy road into the neighbouring street. Not to mention the fury caused to residents , pensioners , the school run brigade etc etc. Talk about nightmares to the profession.
I mention this following a client's visit to my premises yesterday. His local takeaway delivery service now takes three times as long , adding fuel costs with disgruntled customers moaning about the food - not as hot as it used to be. He needs this extra burden like a hole in the head. His question ''....Has the world gone mad......'' I could not answer.
Does this ring a Bell with anyone ?

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Replying to Mr J Andrews:
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By Mallock
30th Sep 2020 09:44

All Councils are going mad at the moment building cycle lanes that encroach into roads, moving bus stops out into the road so that all traffic has to stop behind the bus etc etc: this is not a solution, it is a problem in the making.
Huge inconvenience to the vast majority for little benefit. The new cycle lane near me isn't used by half the cyclists because it only runs down one side of the road. Yes the world is going mad largely because the people we have allowed to be in charge are former inmates of the asylum.

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Replying to Mr J Andrews:
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By killer33
30th Sep 2020 09:57

takeaway services use cyclists around here. problem solved.

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By 3el Nd
29th Sep 2020 14:46

Ever since the start of the retention scheme , i have been trying to keep sane by knowing it was only to be for a few months. So when it was reported a few days ago that there was a new scheme, i instantly felt stressed out.
As alot of members on here, we were very busy before all of this started.
The work load increase alone is bad enough, never mind constant phone calls and everything else that comes with it. We did not charge for this service but i have made a few mistakes , not claim a period for one client, which we then paid out our own pocket.

I cant help but think about alot of these small / medium businesses that are struggling at this present time are really going to feel the crunch in the upcoming months. Employers now will now pay 1/3 of the normal ' non working' hours and goverment only going to put up 1/3 of non working hours.
so if someone on 30 hours week, they have to work 10 hours to qualify. The remaining 20 hours will be split into 3 .,thats 6.5 hours that will be suplemented by the goverment, 6.5hours by the employer and the last 1/3 will be lost. In total the employer will pay 55% and goverment 22%.

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By Thinktank
29th Sep 2020 19:05

Yes, it has caused lots of headache and i am on sleeping pills.
How much do you guys charge to make furlough claim? So far we haven't charged but it is too much work for us and we have to charge for the previous work. It takes considerable time doing claims. My staff on average spends 15-20 days to complete around 100 claims. We didn't charge it because we didn't want to be mean in the time of need but this is not working for us anymore.

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Replying to Thinktank:
blue sheep
By NH
29th Sep 2020 20:12

Uh? You are saying this when there is only one more month to go?
Hang in there

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Replying to NH:
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By Thinktank
30th Sep 2020 09:48

One month to go for furlough but with Job Support Scheme next 6 months it feels never ending.
Still confused though what is fair charge per claim/employee?

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Replying to Thinktank:
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By Ian McTernan CTA
30th Sep 2020 13:51

That seems an awfully long time to complete what in essence is quite a simple claims process, especially after the first month when spreadsheets have been designed and figures inserted (either by us or by the employer), do all of those claims have just under 100 employees each? Are they all working part time?
The biggest issue I had that took the longest time was ensuring every payroll client was on my agents list (as several weren't as we use third party software for payrolls and never had a need before).

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By Mallock
30th Sep 2020 09:21

Our discussions with clients have been quite blunt re the new JSS. Why would you pay someone over 50% of their wages to give you 1/3rd of their normal hours? The good employees are already back at work and in the majority of cases the poorer ones were on flexible furlough. On the basis that a business with staff on furlough is likely to be feeling some financial strain, is it not better to pay the good employees a bit more for more hours and let the rest go or offer them redundancy or a part-time job? There are few businesses in the current environment who can afford to pay staff to sit at home.

In the main, employers who are attracted to this scheme are likely to be those who have been abusing the furlough scheme all along with staff working full or nearly full time but furlough claims still being made.

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Replying to Mallock:
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By Ian McTernan CTA
30th Sep 2020 13:56

Couldn't agree less at the main thrust and especially at your assertion as to who might be attracted to the scheme.

The main aim of the scheme is to help retain skilled workers where the company might be operating temporarily under capacity and where is will prove difficult to replace that very skilled worker when full production returns. It's more for manufacturing and other skilled workers rather than lower skilled or more easily replaced workers.

It is way better for these businesses to try and retain these key workers.

Employers who have been abusing the JRS may or may not try and abuse this scheme too- but they are not what the scheme is designed for.

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By Rick Deckard
30th Sep 2020 17:02

The problem with this scheme (at least from a client point of view!) is the 1/3rd of non-worked hours (after the immediate cash flow hit).

It's just not economical .

The trouble is I have clients who would be interested in some sort of scheme to keep staff, but this won't. If someone usually on £400 a week comes in 3 days a week, because that's what's needed, the client has to find an additional £53.33 on top of the £240.00 they get paid for coming in.

It means either getting people in as near full time as you can, or keeping them on at less than 1/3 working time. Neither of which is ideal.

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