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How Grant Thornton's tax team has gone from strength to strength

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With the ever-increasing complexity of the UK tax system, Peter Legge, Tax Partner at Grant Thornton in Belfast, has responded by building a market-leading team of specialists to focus on providing joined-up, proactive, commercial tax advice for clients across Northern Ireland.

It has been a story of sustained growth for the tax division at the Belfast office of leading business advisory firm Grant Thornton over recent years.

Led by Peter Legge, the team, which now comprises some 60 tax professionals, has witnessed revenues grow more than seven-fold over the course of the last eight years, following exponentially rising demand for its services and expertise.

Peter said the pace of the growth was attributable to the department’s depth of knowledge across the entire tax landscape, and to a relentless focus on client relationships.

“Tax legislation has become significantly more complex in recent years, and that trend will only continue in the years to come,” he said.

“With the pressure on public finances, HMRC will be compelled to ensure strict compliance with that expanding legislation, whilst utilising the vast array of anti-avoidance rules and powers in an effort to close the rising ‘tax gap’, which in simple terms is the difference between the amount of tax that should be paid and the amount that is actually collected.

“In addition, tax rates are set to only go one way.  We have already seen the announcement that Corporation Tax will increase from 19% to 25% from 2023, and the introduction of the new 1.25% NHS Levy on earnings for employees, the self-employed and employers, effectively applying from April 2022 by way of increases to National Insurance and dividend tax rates.

“The combined effect of complex and ever-changing tax legislation together with the multi-disciplinary approach often adopted by HMRC in relation to investigations, has led to us developing our own Tax Disputes and Investigations division in response.”

This specialist team comprises experts across all the main taxes who can draw on their technical knowledge and experience gained within practice, industry and HMRC.

The team sits alongside the longer established International Tax, R&D and Patent Box, Capital Allowances, Equity Reward, Global Mobility, Transactions, Reorganisations, VAT & Customs, Property, Trusts, Estates and Private Client teams.

Grant Thornton have also made a number of recent key hires to further bolster its expertise across these areas.  Among those to have joined the firm are Colin Piggott who joins the Employer Solutions team primarily focusing on Equity Reward, and Sherena Deveney who has brought a wealth of experience in advising high net worth individuals and entrepreneurs to the private client team led by Alan Gourley.

For Peter, who joined Grant Thornton in 2005, becoming a Partner in 2014, close client relationships are key.

He said:

“We are always conscious that, particularly for owner managed businesses, the company is very much an asset of an individual, or a family.

“So, from our perspective when working with a new client, we take a ‘shareholder first’ approach, looking at the business structure to ensure it is geared towards delivering for them.

“Getting to know the shareholders, their dynamics and aspirations enables us to offer a proactive service which seeks to align their personal objectives with the commercial strategy of the business.  We put ourselves in their shoes.”

Such is the standing of the tax team, several hold significant external positions such as Alan Gourley who chairs the Northern Ireland Tax Committee of Chartered Accountants Ireland, on which Clare Fitzgerald, an Associate Director at the firm, also sits.

Peter, meanwhile, is an Executive Board member of Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce.

“It’s important to us that we are making that wider contribution to the business community and brining our expertise to bear on a broader scale,” he said.

Looking ahead, Peter sees further growth for the team.

“We continue to hire quality recruits at every level. In addition to newly joined directors this year, we have welcomed six tax graduates with a further nine to join the tax team in 2022,” he added.

“Quite simply, this is to keep up with the demand for services and ensure we remain at the cutting edge of tax developments.

“We are still seeing, for example, a huge appetite from companies for assistance on R&D Tax Credit claims, having helped clients recoup well in excess of £10 million of relief in the past two years.

“Similarly, our employer solutions division is dealing with a surge in mandates, whether it’s to provide services on compliance with PAYE legislation, equity reward or global mobility which has been particularly pertinent in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.  Likewise, Brexit developments and the Northern Ireland Protocol have provided a constantly evolving landscaping against which to advise clients.

And the Grant Thornton client list has been expanding rapidly across all sectors, from smaller family firms to the very largest organisations in Northern Ireland.  “Clients in 2021 will only pay for added value.  Deep specialist knowledge is the only way to provide that.”