Over the last five years, a strategic priority for Thomas Westcott has been to grow and develop our specialist tax team. It’s just one way we’re ensuring we meet the changing needs of our clients across the South West and beyond.
Tax can be a dynamic and highly complex area at the best of times and right now it is more important than ever for us to offer our clients the highest level of expertise and advice. Changes to taxation arising from the Covid pandemic and Brexit have created both challenges and opportunities for businesses and individuals.
Our clients need specialists with the right level of knowledge and experience to guide them through. They also deserve to have advisors they can trust, who understand their business needs and personal aspirations and who can clearly explain the best way forward.
Building the right tax team
When I joined Thomas Westcott, the firm had a small tax team based in Exeter. We now have over 15 dedicated tax specialists across our network of offices. In addition, many of our accountants have a high degree of tax expertise and experience.
We are proud to have a number of leading experts in our tax team. Many have experience in the UK’s biggest accountancy firms, including PwC, Ernst & Young and KPMG. In the last 18 months alone, we significantly enhanced our tax expertise by recruiting Ian Pring, who has 30 years’ tax experience with PKF Francis Clark and is recognised as a leading Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) expert in the South West, and welcoming longstanding Plymouth-based accountancy practice Riley Chartered Accountants into the firm.
Our view is it is crucial that we have the right mix of knowledge. That’s why we’ve recruited individuals with particular specialisms, such as SDLT, international personal tax, VAT and Capital Gains Tax.
The growth of our team has enabled us to attract larger corporates who need our depth of knowledge. It also means we can offer a better service to existing clients, including businesses of all sizes and private individuals.
Our tax team is based across the region, from Plymouth and North Devon in the West to Somerset in the East. While geography is perhaps less important than it once was, thanks to digital technology and the accelerated shift to remote working, we know our clients appreciate our local presence.
With 17 offices across the South West, we remain committed to our local communities. While I work across our branches in Barnstaple and Bideford, we have a strong tax team presence in Devon’s two major cities: Plymouth and Exeter. We also have a growing team in Somerset, with tax Partners based in Weston-super-Mare.
A different approach
As we grow, we remain passionate about doing things differently. While some firms offer a basic compliance approach to taxation, we can provide a full advisory role. Unlike most large accountancy firms, we have not separated off our taxation service. While we have a specialist tax team, all our accountants can provide general taxation advice. If needed, they can then bring in the specialist knowledge of the tax team.
It’s an approach that we think better suits our clients.
We know that they appreciate the personal service they get from their dedicated Thomas Westcott advisor. Many of our accountants have worked with particular clients for decades. That means they really understand their needs and goals and get to know their businesses.
Because our tax specialists have had their grounding in some of the UK’s biggest accountancy firms we can offer the same level of expertise as the largest accountants. However, when we recruit our tax specialists, we are not just looking for technical excellence.
We have a very personal approach and we pride ourselves on our ability to explain complex taxation in simple terms. Strong communication skills and the ability to give advice are what set the best people apart. That is why communication is the key attribute we look for in new recruits.
New challenges for businesses and individuals
When we started growing our tax team, we could never have imagined just how important it would become. In the last year, we have seen many changes to taxation as a result of the Covid pandemic, with more developments resulting from Brexit expected in the coming months.
We are currently handling a high level of enquiries about SDLT. This is because rates are so high, the SDLT holidays, introduced to boost the property market during the pandemic, are due to end and available reliefs are often overlooked by other advisors.
Throughout the Covid crisis, we have been supporting businesses with payroll changes. The introduction of the furlough scheme made payroll more complex than ever before. HMRC is now starting to undertake reviews of businesses that have claimed furlough. Many of our clients - large and small - have taken the decision to outsource their payroll as a result of these challenges.
We are also advising our clients in the hospitality and construction sectors on changes to VAT that have been introduced in recent months.
The recent announcement of Plymouth gaining Freeport status is creating opportunities for businesses in and around the city. Many are coming to Thomas Westcott for advice on tax-related issues around the Freeport.
While there is still much uncertainty around Brexit, businesses are looking to us to help ensure they are properly managing their tax affairs in relation to importing and exporting goods.
Looking to the future
Tax is - and will continue to be - a priority for the firm. We need to ensure we continue to meet demand from both private individuals and businesses. As new changes are introduced, we must also ensure we have the right balance of expertise so we can offer the most relevant expert advice.
That’s why our plan is to continue to grow the team. In the short term, for example, we are looking to expand our team in North Devon and enhance our VAT offering across the firm. In the longer term, we are expecting to see continued growth right across the region.
However, as we expand our tax team we are committed to retaining our individuality. We will continue to seek out the best people for our clients. Of course that means recruiting people with the right technical knowledge and experience. But it also means hiring people who share the Thomas Westcott ethos and who have brilliant communication skills. In short, tax specialists who can be that trusted guide for our clients through the ever-changing and complex arena of taxation.
By Mark Tibbert, Partner and Head of Tax