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One minute on life, the universe and employee ownership with the Tax Journal

Tax Journal is the leading tax publication for the UK corporate and business community: it publicised employee ownership to its readers in a recent article ...One minute with Graeme Nuttall, Partner, Tax Journal is the leading tax publication for the UK corporate and business community: it publicised employee ownership to its readers in a recent article ...

One minute with Graeme Nuttall, Partner, Field Fisher Waterhouse LLP

How did you end up in tax?

Unusually for my generation of lawyers, I started in tax. A perceptive managing partner encouraged me to qualify into tax. He predicted law firms would develop full service tax consultancies.

Who in tax do you most admire?

My (business) partner of many years, Nicholas Noble. He combines a tremendous breadth of technical expertise with an instinct for practical solutions.

Looking back on your career, what is the key lesson you’ve  learnt?

If you get out there, good things happen.

What are you working on?

Everything relates to a core philosophy that organisations need the right ownership and governance structure to work well. Businesses, not for profits and private wealth all need the right structure. Standard answers are not necessarily the best solution. In particular, I am working with clients and the UK government to get the employee ownership business model much more widely adopted. It works well at every stage of the business life cycle: in start-ups, as a way to achieve and sustain growth, in business turnarounds and, especially, as a succession solution. The idea works across all sectors and sizes of business.

You are a government adviser on employee ownership, and made numerous recommendations in Sharing Success: The Nuttall review of employee ownership, designed to promote employee ownership. What’s been achieved now that we’re more than one year on?

The BIS One year on report confirmed progress against all 28 recommendations and in over half this is significant. There is now a government minister for employee ownership. Company law changed from 30 April 2013 to allow private companies greater flexibility to buy back shares and hold shares in treasury, which improves liquidity for employee share plans. New tax exemptions in this year’s Finance Act will promote the ownership of companies by employee trusts and the idea of selling a controlling stake to an employee-ownership trust. Why sell to a lifelong competitor when you can sell to your employees?

What’s your view on the new employee shareholder rules?

Thankfully, the chancellor changed the confusing original name of this new employment law status from ‘employee ownership’  status. This is not a Nuttall review recommendation. Nick Clegg calls this measure ‘niche’. The measure sparked a helpful and lively debate, in which almost everyone said they preferred the Nuttall review vision of employee ownership – a significant chunk of a company owned by or on behalf of all staff, without giving up employment rights.

If you could make one change to UK tax, what would it be?

Only one more change? It would be great not to worry about the loan to participator rules when a close company lends to an employee trust.

Would you describe life as a tax lawyer as adventurous?

It can be. I was on the last seat of the last plane out of Skopje when the Kosovo war started. I was working with the Federation of Trade Unions of Macedonia on a collective employee ownership model and realised, when I was the only civilian left in my hotel, that I was a little too close to the war zone for comfort and for my family’s peace of mind.

This article was first published on 7 March 2014 by Tax Journal

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