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Customs and Global Trade – a hot topic….by Emma Wade

With Brexit on the horizon the Customs market has been very interesting over the last 12-24 months from a recruitment perspective.  Customs is obviously a hot topic for most businesses and the consultancy firms have been very busy, resulting in teams growing significantly across the UK including partner appointments – it’s great that Customs has the high profile that it deserves.   Not that I am biased at all!  The consultants joining these firms have come from a diverse range of backgrounds – the UK is an attractive place to be from a customs perspective right now from both a technical and professional perspective.  Candidates have moved over to the UK from other consulting practices overseas, some have made the move from an in-house environment and there has been a steady stream of candidates leaving HMRC, attracted by the bright lights of the private sector.  On that note HMRC have recruited heavily themselves into the Customs area, a combination of transferring people internally from VAT over to Customs and Excise and recruiting graduates straight into teams such as the EU Exit Policy team.

On the in-house side the market has been steady, but not quite as hectic as you may expect.  There has been a reasonable amount of recruitment for Customs and Excise compliance specialists and grants from the government have helped customs agents and intermediaries to build capacity to manage Customs declarations.  Recruitment at the more senior level has been more piecemeal – there have been a few appointments but many businesses are waiting to see if the UK leaves the EU with or without a deal as this will have a significant impact (huge impact for some businesses) on what their Customs landscape will look like.

I have had many conversations with businesses, talking through potential hiring plans, all contingent on what happens with Brexit.  The effect on the Customs burden for many businesses is so dependent on Brexit that in my view, they are right to wait.  It will have a big impact on the level of seniority of candidate they need to recruit.  Some businesses have taken pre-emptive steps and have been using contractors to make sure that processes are in place and they are Brexit ready.

One thing I do know is that it’s a great time to be a Customs specialist in the UK, the work will be challenging, the landscape continually changing and your role will certainly be high profile in the business.

ALL ABOUT YOU! The Life and Times of Senior Women in Indirect Tax…

I am delighted to present the next in my series of profiles of senior women in Indirect Tax. The aim is to showcase the talents, experience and stories of these amazing women, and provide some insight into their professional and personal lives, what inspires them and what wisdom they can share. My interviewee this week is Gill Hunter.

Gill Hunter

Gill Hunter is an experienced Indirect Tax professional, working for Essentia Global Services as a Senior Indirect Tax Consultant,  as well as being a member of the First-Tier Tax Tribunal. Gill started her Indirect Tax career in the Investigations division of Customs and Excise, before moving to a Big 4 firm. She took a career break, during which time she pursued other projects, including technical tax writing. She also became a magistrate serving in the Kent Courts for 10 years. During this time she built links with the local prison service and in 2013 set up a programme in Kent prisons to prepare prisoners for job interviews before their release. Gill returned to the Big 4 through one of the Return to Work programmes. She moved to Dubai in 2017,  and previously worked for a couple of the Big 4 as they built their Indirect Tax practise in the UAE, before moving to Essentia.

Gill Hunter

  1. What gets you up in the morning?
    Wondering what excitement the day might have in store.
  2. Can you describe your current role to me in 1 sentence?
    Member of the First-tier Tax Tribunal and Consultant for Essentia Global Services.
  3. What led you to your current position?
    I was recruited to the Tax Tribunal in 2009 when the VAT and Duties Tribunal and the General and Special Commissioners merged and I joined Essentia when I met one of the owners, Bill Morrison, in a bar in Dubai!
  4. How did you get into Indirect Tax in the first place?
    I joined Customs and Excise in 1983 as a VAT inspector in London at the tender age of 19 and from there I went into investigation work before I left to join Price Waterhouse, as it was then, in 1990.
  5. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the Indirect Tax industry right now?
    As I am currently based in Dubai, looking from here at the UK it appears it must be the uncertainty Brexit continues to bring to businesses across all areas. Here in the GCC it is helping businesses prepare for the three remaining countries to implement Indirect Tax and dealing with the changes that occur in Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain as their Indirect Tax systems mature in the years ahead.
  6. What advice would you give to young professionals – especially women – starting out on their Indirect Tax careers?
    There are so many opportunities in Indirect Tax in the UK and also around the world. If you don’t feel suited to the first job you have, don’t think you will be stuck there for ever. Nothing stays the same and Indirect Tax can provide you with a long career that is rich in variety.
  7. What barriers have you had to overcome during your career to date?
    For me the biggest barriers came when I returned to work having had my son in the mid 1990s. That was not an easy time to make progress in your career and be a mother. Experience suggests leaps and bounds have been achieved in the work place in the last 25 years, not least the addition of Return To Work programmes such as the one I joined at Deloitte in 2016.
  8. Have there been times when you considered changing career tack?
    Definitely, when I looked at returning to work when the children were older. Over the years, I have added new skills to my portfolio but somehow VAT always draws me back into its fold in one way or another. A life in VAT produces very transferable skills!
  9. And if yes – what made you stay?
    In 2016 I was fortunate to be included in the Deloitte Return to Work programme for people who had been out of the workplace for a number of years. It was an amazing programme for reintroducing me to consultancy work and introducing me to the technological changes that had taken place in my 18 years away from an office environment. Since then I have worked for Deloitte and PwC in Dubai.
  10. What has been your ‘career-defining’ moment?
    This is a difficult one to answer but I can’t help thinking back to when I became an investigator in the 1980s. Much of the work I have been involved with in the years since has been influenced by the training and experience I received at that time – including becoming a magistrate, voluntary work in prisons and my work in the Tax Tribunal on MTICs and similar cases – investigation work gave me an insight into and interest in investigation, criminal law and the judicial process.
  11. What did you want to be when you were growing up?
    There wasn’t a particular job that I wanted to do when I was growing up. But I remember when I heard that I had been appointed to Customs and Excise when I was 19. I was working in a restaurant where I grew up in North Yorkshire. The boss said that he hoped I didn’t end up as a VAT inspector and I laughed because I had no idea VAT inspectors were part of Customs and Excise. I thought I would be stopping drug smugglers at Heathrow Airport. Little did I know! But what I wanted to do was to be able to live and work in London and it certainly enabled me to do that, for many years. And now in Dubai.
  12. What advice would you give to your younger self?
    Be patient. You have many years ahead of you to find the work that satisfies you. If you find you are in the right place from the word go that is great too, but if you’re not, look for the people who will support you to find the appropriate place for your skills and talents. There is some truth to the saying that if you do a job you love you’ll never do a day’s work in your life.
  13. What are your honest thoughts on social media?
    I think social media have been great technological advances but we see that they often bring out the worst in people. Maybe because we are still working out how to use them.
  14. If you won a big award, who would you thank?
    I would thank my husband, Brian, for always supporting me in the choices I have made, especially the one to take time out to stay at home with Charlie and Katie for 18 years and then to take on more projects as more time became available as they got older. I would thank them too for being happy that their ‘mum’ was out in the world making a contribution.
  15. What’s the best thing anyone has ever done for you?
    Told me that I can!
  16. What’s the one word you’d want people to describe you with?
  17. Books or kindle?
    Mostly Kindle with the occasional book.
  18. If you could have a Skype chat with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
    As I am currently in the UK for seven weeks and my husband is in Dubai or Saudi Arabia, definitely him. He restores my equilibrium. If on the other hand I couldn’t get through to him I might have a chat with Elvis instead!
  19. What is your best time saving tip?
    Make a start. You don’t have to complete a task all in one go, but take the first step and the rest will follow.
  20. What has been the best part of your day today?
    Lunch with a friend.
  21. Favorite holiday destination?
    Wherever the family is. With the kids in Canada and the US and us in Dubai, wherever we can meet around the world. Next stop a family wedding in Bali!
  22. Tell me one thing that people might not know about you……
    When I made my first arrest as VAT investigator back in the 1980s the man I arrested complained that he shouldn’t have been arrested by a woman! Or that when I was in Customs & Excise I was once part of a peep show in Soho when we forgot to close the show when we went in to count the day’s takings and I was talking to the performer when a customer came in and put his money in the slot and she began her act. Who says indirect tax isn’t interesting?!


Do smoking breaks cause resentment from colleagues? by Catriona Cookson

A recent survey by consultancy firm Willis Towers Watson found that 53% of UK workers believe that smoking or vaping breaks during work hours leads to resentment from non-smoker colleagues. You can take a look at the full article here. Mike Blake, wellbeing lead at Willis Towers Watson believes this resentment may stem from the perceived allowances that are made for smokers ie they are automatically excused.

Conversely, just over a third of non-smokers said they took regular breaks from their working activities.

I was quite surprised by this article on several levels…..firstly, I feel no envy of smokers…if they want to pop outside in the freezing cold then they’re welcome to it !! Secondly, I am sure non smokers take breaks in other ways…..some people (me!) drink lots of tea and so take breaks in a different way, some people feel the need to get up from their desk and stretch their legs, and others may need to step away from their desk to make a call. As long as it’s not the same person doing all of the above, then a bit of give and take is the best way! We all spend time away from our desks and much as I hate smoking, it seems unfair to target this group…….particularly as if you ask nicely they may put the kettle on when they’re coming back in!

On a wider note, it seems the serious message (and the common sense one ) is that we all need some regular breaks. I’m a great fan of always going outside for some fresh air at lunchtime – frankly, it’s the only way you can get to 10,000 – 12,000 steps if you’re sitting in an office and it sets you up nicely for that next cup of tea and the afternoon biscuit!

Smoking Breaks

Wise Words from Charles Handy – by Catriona Cookson

In his latest book “21 Letters on Life and Its Challenges”, Charles Handy is talking to his grandchildren about the world of work and why the world’s big corporations may not be set up to attract and retain the next generation of talent unless they understand that people are not a human resource.

You can read the excerpt from the book here which includes some very relevant messages :

1.Keep it small

“If people truly mattered, then it was better that they worked, if at all possible, in situations where everyone could know each other. For how can you trust or rely on someone whom you never meet? Humans need human-sized groups to be at their best. Small is better, if not essential, to get the job done properly”.

While new technology has a huge part to play in the future of work, Handy believes that “The technology should not try to do what humans do better, and vice versa.”

2. Human scale

Charles suggests that 45 people works best as the maximum size of a work group, considerably smaller than Professor Robin Dunbar’s number of 150 being the largest number of people we can know personally and have some affinity with ….perhaps no coincidence that many consulting firms either merge or sell when they reach a headcount of c150.

So can the major corporates reorganise themselves into small groups linked by technology?…they’ll have to ….“Already young people are turning away from the traditional pyramid organisations in which you clamber your way up the hierarchy over the years. The world of work is increasingly going to realise that small is better.”

3. You are not a Human Resource

Handy identifies the difference between managing and leading ….. “Any organisation whose key assets are talented or skilled people doesn’t use the word manager to describe the people in charge.The title of manager is only used for those who are in charge of things, not people.

It strikes me that this is very sensible and true …that organising, leading and managing are three different activities …..people are not a resource to be managed, rather a person to be led.

Charles Handy

Women and Leadership …why sponsoring rather than mentoring makes a big difference – by Catriona Cookson

If you haven’t thought much about the difference then do take a read of this article from Herminia Ibarra , the Charles Handy Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School.

In it she outlines that women tend to be over mentored and under sponsored. And as a mentor is someone who has knowledge and will share it with you, and sponsor is someone who has power and will use it for you, there is an important distinction. Additionally, while an executive’s store of knowledge will not be depleted by sharing it, the political capital he or she spends fighting for someone to get a key assignment can no longer be used on something else.

However, Herminia argues that sponsorship should not be seen as an either / or role …there is a spectrum of input from mentor to strategiser, connector, opportunity giver to advocate. If you are looking for sponsorship you should be thinking strategically about how you can move along this range …and who is best placed to help you do this.

Women on their way up the career ladder often prefer (or are indeed assigned) female mentors who will have faced similar situations in their career. However, the real key is to find a sponsor who has power and influence and who will use this to your advantage …..and in many organisations this for the time being may still be a man.

If you feel you may benefit from some coaching on how to navigate your career progression, perhaps Liz Watt in our coaching division can help, please contact her for more details.


Women and Leadership

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