My Career in Tax
Pete Miller, Managing Partner at the Miller Partnership (co-chair at The UK Tax Summit)
How long have you worked in tax?
32 years: I started on 18th April 1988!
What do you enjoy most about working in tax?
On one level, it’s the problem solving aspects. That is, clients coming to me with a particular situation or scenario and asking how they can deal with it or how they can move to the alternative structure in the most tax efficient way.
Having spent the last nine years running my own business and working with owner managers, the most rewarding thing about working in tax is helping them achieve what they want with their businesses and with the right tax result. Sometimes it’s as simple as making sure that they are able to sell the business and qualify for entrepreneurs’ relief; sometimes it’s about selling to the next generation or to their management team in a tax efficient way; sometimes it’s more complicated, such as a demerger and sale of part of the business. Either way, after many years working for large firms, I have discovered that it is very satisfying helping real people make the most of the wealth that they have generated.
Are there particular specialist areas of tax that you most enjoy and why?
Most of my work relates to corporate reorganisations and reconstructions, things such as share exchanges, management buyouts, demergers and so on. As a result, I also do a lot of work involving the clearance team at HMRC, where people are having difficulties obtaining the clearance they require, and that has also led me into working a lot with the transactions in securities rules, as well.
As to why I enjoy it, I think the answer is the same as for the previous question, that it is rewarding to see people being able to make the most out of their lifetime of wealth generation.
What advice would you give someone who is ambitious to fast track their career in tax?
To be honest, I may not be the best person to advise on this, given that my career in tax appears to have been a series of fortuitous accidents! But I think to some extent the advice is the same as any career, which is to seek out the more interesting work and trying get yourself involved in it. Once you’ve been involved in one project of a particular type, people will got to see you as the local expert on that subject and push more of that work your way, so that you become more experienced and more expert, get more work in that area, and so on.
This is very much the story of how I got involved in reconstructions, as I had a seat in the Inland Revenue’s head office which dealt with complex demergers of a particular type, and I then joined big four firms who use that expertise to throw other forms of reconstruction work at me, as well. With every new piece of work came more experience, hence more work, and so on. Obviously, the key to all of this is a lot of hard work in making sure that you understand the legislation and can apply it, but people do love having an expert that they can give work to.
Is there anything you would do differently now if you were just starting out in tax?
I should say something about planning my career, which has actually been more of a verb than a noun! But since things seem to have turned out pretty well and I have had some amazing experiences in tax, it’s hard to see anything fundamental that I would change, if I could go back in time.
Like many people, of course, if I’d known what I know now, when I first joined the Inland Revenue, what a career I might have had!
What do you think will be the biggest challenge facing tax professionals over the next decade?
I think there are a series of challenges. Firstly, the tax code is getting more and more complicated, which means that tax knowledge is becoming more fragmented. Even in some of the more straightforward transactions I am involved with, I now find that I am constantly having to seek advice from experts in other areas of the tax code, such as employment-related securities or inheritance tax, because they affect the transaction and these particular areas of tax are so complicated, that I need expert advice, rather than relying on my own relatively superficial knowledge.
The other area is likely to be some form of regulation. I’ve no idea what form this might take, and I am reluctant to make any suggestions. Certainly, I know many excellent tax advisers who do not have any formal tax qualifications, and some apparently highly-qualified people who are not perhaps acting at the level one would expect! So it’s not all about passing exams or collecting CPD points but, given some of the things that have happened in the tax world over the last 25 years or so, I think some form of regulation or at least minimum qualification requirements for tax advisors might be over the horizon somewhere.
Finally, the most important thing for any tax system is a professionally run and impartial tax authority. I believe we had one when I joined the Inland Revenue in 1988, and when I left in late 1997. Frankly – and it pains me to say this – we do not have either a professionally staffed or an impartial tax authority at the moment. We have a tax authority that seems to assume that it should be given Draconian powers to deal with even the most minor infractions or mistakes by taxpayers and staffed by people who believe that those powers are to be used, not held in reserve for the more extreme cases. As a result, that is no public trust in HMRC and clearly no trust between HMRC and the tax advisory community.
While the relationships between taxpayers, their advisers and revenue authorities is always going to be adversarial to some extent, I find it completely unacceptable that things have reached a point where the entire relationship is adversarial with almost no point of common ground.
What do you enjoy most about your current role?
I think I’ve already answered this by saying how rewarding I find it to be able to help people get the best out of their lifetime in business and in creating wealth for the country as a whole.
Why would you advise people to attend The UK Tax Summit?
Given what I said about the complexity of the tax regime, our idea for the Tax Summit is to highlight some of the issues that we might have to deal with in advising a business, by going through a business life cycle. So instead of a series of piecemeal talks on various aspects of the tax code, we are taking you through a sequence of issues, from starting a business to the final sale of that business, so that the day encapsulates the entire life cycle.
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