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Indirect Tax Autumn Newsletter 2020



Anyone else feeling that things are looking a little rosier this week? This is our first Indirect Tax Newsletter since the world was turned on its head in the Spring – consciously so, as we were sure that the last thing anyone wanted to hear was how challenging the job market has been! But as we now have something positive to report, and talks of vaccines, a departing Trump and a second lockdown that doesn’t feel anywhere like as dramatic as the first, makes it a good time to look forward. And whilst we are very conscious that positive Covid tests are rising, and times remain very tough for a good number of people, both personally and professionally, any sign of good news is something worth reporting, particularly in the run up to a very different looking festive season.


For those of you not yet utterly bored of looking at graphs on the telly, here’s another one for you, which shows the impact of the last few months on the UK VAT recruitment market.

*’Experienced hire’ only, excludes entry level

*’Experienced hire’ only, excludes entry level

Perspective is crucial here, and what we have to remember is that hiring levels hadn’t got back to the levels we all enjoyed before the 2016 UK referendum. Around the time of the UK election and as Brexit loomed closer, things went a little quieter again. But 2020 was starting positively and things were certainly starting to pick back up again. And then the thunderbolt happened.

It was quite understandable that recruitment dropped off dramatically in the Spring when Covid hit, particularly in the professional services firms. The majority of firms paused hiring plans to focus on existing staff welfare, job retention and to work out precisely what their hiring needs could and should look like in the new world we found ourselves. A good number of firms remain cautious about hiring, but in the last month or so, more and more firms are starting to articulate needs – with specific, carefully thought out slots being identified, most frequently at the more senior end of the spectrum. And the results are already starting to show – hiring is starting to happen once again for these specific slots. It may take a while yet to be fully back to ‘normal’ hiring levels, and there’s not vast numbers of roles out there still at the more junior end of the spectrum, but the signs are good.

Even more cheerfully, the permanent in-house job market is clearly shown to have turned a corner more swiftly, with a clear and continuing upturn since the summer – earlier than any of us expected. The cogs of VAT still needed to whir, pandemic or no pandemic. VAT has remained on the agenda for businesses, so much so that some companies have taken positive action about growing their internal VAT functions by creating new positions – it’s certainly not just been replacement roles that have been hired for. Again, whilst we’re not back to the same hiring levels as before by any means, it’s nudging ever closer. What has changed is the levels of expertise sought – comfort in experience is the watchword. In-house advisory and/or compliance oversight roles that have arisen since the Spring have been 37% pitched typically at the £70 - 85k salary levels, 30% at the £55k – 70k bracket. There remains only a handful of appointments made at the £90k plus grades or the more junior grades. It also remains not good news for in-house VAT compliance/return preparers, as technology and automation is prompting more and more businesses to outsource or handle compliance differently. And the bridge between those with predominantly VAT compliance/technology/process careers and those whose careers have gone down a more traditional VAT technical advisory route continues to narrow with very little transition between the two fields of expertise now possible.

Similarly the volume of Indirect Tax contracts arising has taken a hit, particularly at the senior end of the spectrum for those used to temporary assignments via their own business. The contracts that have arisen have been almost always fixed term, pay-rolled contracts.

Customs & International Trade

Much like Brexit itself, the expected upturn in Customs & Trade hiring was delayed. And delayed again. And then delayed once more! However it’s all now starting to kick off in the last month or so – the perfect storm of uncertainty and confusion still reigning, combined with a clock ticking away, has resulted in a noticeable upturn in companies starting to invest in their technical trade resource capabilities at the middle management kind of levels. Very senior and very junior positions remain a rarity, but we always knew that there wouldn’t be enough expertise to go round at the middle grades, and so it’s proved. Companies who are coming to this late are now starting to struggle to find staff, and in an economic environment where there is pressure on budgets and salaries in general, recruiting in this space is not the easiest. BLT to the rescue! We’ve always championed the growth and development of the Customs & Trade discipline, know the market inside out, and our services are now in demand like never before! We’re currently working on a large scale quasi-public sector volume hiring project and a number of in-house positions are coming through with more expected – for more information, do get in touch with Emma.

A selection of what we’re working on

How are you?

We’d be really interested to hear your experiences of this last year both professionally and personally. How well has your company coped? How well have you coped? Has life changed irrevocably? What will a working environment look like in the future? Do take a moment to fill the quick BLT questionnaire, and we shall publish the findings in the New Year – we’re sure it will be fascinating reading.

How are we?

Really well, thanks for asking! Thanks to all those who have reached out during these strange times to ask how we’ve been doing – it was hugely appreciated. We’re a small business, and whilst we’ve been around long enough to have seen our way through a number of recessions in our time, one must admit that a global pandemic was not something we’ve had to cope with before! Thankfully, business has been stronger than expected, Indirect Tax recruitment didn’t ever grind to halt…and a number of firms and companies have taken the opportunity to get some really good BLT led hires in. So we’d like to thank those companies who have hired through us this year for their business as well as of course the loyal BLT Indirect Tax network who continue to recommend our recruitment services to clients, colleagues and friends.

Where are we?

On a computer near you. Our big news is that like so many businesses, we went physical office free in the summer! We do miss our old Chancery Lane stomping ground as well as seeing clients, candidates and colleagues in person. We’ll be back at some point no doubt, but in the meantime, the world of Teams and Zoom and the like will have to do! Have a read of Guy’s LinkedIn article from back in the summer on unearthing three decades of ‘placement books’ in the big office clear out in the Summer – are you in the BLT Who’s Who?

Executive Coaching for Indirect Tax Specialists

Liz Watt here at BLT has been really busy round here at BLT Executive Coaching – in these uncertain times, now more than ever is a good time to take a moment to take stock. For more information on BLT Executive Coaching or the Women in Indirect Tax Network Groups that Liz runs, do get in touch with her at

Wishing you and your families good health and cheer in the months ahead.

Best wishes

BLT’s Indirect Tax Team

Guy Barrand & Emma Wade

BLT sponsors VAT & Property Event 2020

BLT are delighted to sponsor this year’s Orca Law VAT & Property event once again – a veritable highlight of the VAT calendar. This year the event is going digital, and will be held over two days, 3rd and 5th November. We’re sure it will be just as insightful as ever.

Colin Smith, Chris Nyland, Kirsten Prichard Jones, Martin Scammell and HMRC’s David Millar will explore the latest hot topics at this two day digital event.

Full access to both days is £200 + VAT but if you sign up at first, you can receive a 20% discount from your booking.

For full details and to book your place go to


TRUST – why it’s never been so important… Catriona Cookson

We all know how important trust is in all areas of our life across our personal, professional and business relationships and why we feel we must be able to trust the leader of a business or organization.

And it’s certainly come sharply into focus in the recent weeks in the midst of coronavirus and all that it brings. From the big questions of “Do we trust the government are following the “right” strategy”, and “Do we trust the advice of the scientific experts?”, … the seemingly smaller ones (although crucially important) of “Can I trust the other shoppers in the supermarket to observe 2m social distancing (and not come and stand at my shoulder when I’m looking at the yoghurts!?!).

Similarly, we look to our business leaders to see true leadership and trust to reassure us. In this article in the HBR, Professor Frances Frei and Anne Morriss explore trust and the role it has in business leadership. Beginning with a case study of work they did for Uber at a very challenging time in Uber’s development, it moves more broadly on to explore trust and the three points of the trust triangle.

Some interesting points here:

“Building trust, however, often requires thinking about leadership from a new perspective. The traditional leadership narrative is all about you: your vision and strategy; your ability to make the tough calls and rally the troops; your talents, your charisma, your heroic moments of courage and instinct. But leadership really isn’t about you. It’s about empowering other people as a result of your presence, and about making sure that the impact of your leadership continues into your absence.”

“Trust has three drivers: authenticity, logic, and empathy. When trust is lost, it can almost always be traced back to a breakdown in one of them. To build trust as a leader, you first need to figure out which driver you “wobble” on.”

This is a really worthwhile read and even if you’re not a captain of industry, it’s worth asking yourself the questions and working through some of the answers. Life has changed for all of us and will continue to evolve over the coming months – there will be no quick fix to “getting back to normal”. Who we trust, which brands we trust, which businesses we trust, will be crucial in the coming months……. businesses which not only survive but flourish will have a high trust rating among their community.

Here at BLT, we’d like you to trust us in Recruitment or Executive Coaching, in either of our two sectors of Management Consultancy or Indirect Tax, please do get in touch if you’d like to discuss further.

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Do we need privacy in lockdown? by Catriona Cookson

I’m working my way through the topics and tips from Jon Bailey – @SloopJontyB , the ex Royal Navy chap who spent a lot of time in submarines, and this week it’s privacy.

I’d never really thought much about privacy during this lockdown phase until I read this from Jon …

PRIVACY: the only place private at sea was your bunk. Make a dedicated private time / place in the routine. Even if you timeshare the front room get everyone a couple of hours alone. Do whatever you want: watch shit films, pray, yoga, arrange matches: whatever gets you through.

In my house at the moment it’s just me and my husband, and we are lucky to have a garden. We’re both working from home during the day and can really do as we wish in our “free time” ….no tiny tots at our feet or teenagers skulking around, no challenges of home schooling. The working from home is fine, but being confined to home every day in free time is trickier.

In the first couple of weeks we had lunch together every day ……”This is nice” I thought as we tucked into our sandwiches, but after reading Jon’s article and putting a routine in place, I suggested we eat separately at lunchtime and have some free time and space away from work. And so I moved to a later lunch more in tune with what I would do in the office and like to catch up on some Outlander – it makes me feel connected to Scotland, the scenery is lovely and it also means I don’t graze on the rolling news channels. It also saves our “How was your day?” chat to dinner time too!

Like many other folks we’d also got into the habit of watching tv in the evenings. And again, I introduced some changes, so we each have the living room one night a week to watch something alone which the other doesn’t like. I love going to the theatre and so far I’ve enjoyed on the “big” television the NT Live at Home productions of One Man Two Guvnors and Jane Eyre, and Alfie Boe with some chat and tunes on Easter Sunday as part of the Royal Albert Hall Home series too. I see that some Matthew Bourne productions are coming on to Sky Arts so these will be a treat to enjoy for future weeks too.

Everyone’s circumstances are different, and the possibility of some private time may be a luxury for many. Even if it’s a last cup of tea when everyone else has gone to bed , or 20 minutes of your favourite tv programme on your own, or heading off for a bath for half an hour with a glass of wine…..if you can find some privacy in your day away from those you live with, it’s very likely everyone will benefit!

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Retirement planning post lockdown….by Liz Watt

We meticulously plan so many aspects of our lives. It starts at an early age – what do I want to be when I grow up? Then there is the planning that marks the transition from school to University or further education; the thought and effort that goes into career planning; the detail that is involved in organising the ‘big ticket’ events in life – birthdays and celebrations, holidays; what we’ll do when lockdown finally ends?

And yet one area of our lives that is often significantly under planned is what happens when you quit your job – or when your job quits you? As the concept of traditional retirement rapidly evolves, something we should all give a bit more thought to – but so often do not – is what our lives might look like once we move on to the next phase, whenever that might be?

And as so many of us are doing a great deal of self-reflection right now, this question might be on our minds more than it ever has been.

Many of us are considering our retirement options at a far earlier stage than previous generations, especially as it’s likely there might be gap between when we finish conventional employment and when pensions (state or otherwise) kick in. It may be an enforced situation – e.g. redundancy, or driven by health or family issues; or quite possibly in the current climate, a growing realisation that life in the corporate world is no longer where you want to be.

Whatever the reason, whether you quit the job or the job quits you, the reality is that having made the decision to change direction or retire, many are blind-sided by the question ‘Now What?’ Lack of planning can leave a huge gap between the world that was, and the reality that is looming and the consequent issues can include boredom, loneliness, ill health, loss of purpose and direction and often financial hardship.

So it makes sense to start thinking about what your future life might look like in advance and not be caught napping. That way, you have the time to mentally acclimatize and put practical steps in place.   You can consider whether you still want or need to work and if so, in what capacity? Part time? Consultancy? Do you want to change tack completely and re-train? Or would you like to find some form of employment that simply provides company and a supplementary form of income?

And how will you fill your time? This is something many of us are finding challenging right now, so what happens if this is a permanent new reality not a temporary one? What your interests and passions? Are charity work or volunteering on your agenda? What about travel (yes – it will happen again!), time with family and friends? You might have already started writing a bucket list of things you want to do once lockdown is over and this could be a great first step to showing you all the things you really want to accomplish.

In my experience, it’s those with a sense of purpose that make the most successful transition. Some people are convinced that they just want to potter at home, then find that they are bored senseless and have to return to work; others had grand plans and find that they were far too ambitious. But undoubtedly the happiest and most fulfilled are those who have thought about the change, embrace the opportunities and challenges and view pre-retirement with a sense of curiosity about what might be possible.

So if this period of isolation is causing you to reflect and think beyond to a time when you aren’t in formal employment and you’d like some help planning this, get in touch for an initial no strings conversation. In the first instance, I can send you my Getting Started questionnaire to help you make the first steps to planning a successful transition to retirement. Contact me:  



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