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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.

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