Morag has just finished her term as Master of the Worshipful Company of Tax Advisers (WCoTA); today, she reflects on her last 12 months and explains the little known world of Livery Companies.
Could you tell us a bit about your background and how you became Master of the WCoTA?
My career started at Lloyds Bank where I became a Chartered Banker before switching to accountancy at Deloitte, qualifying as a Chartered Accountant and subsequently a Chartered Tax Adviser specialising in corporate tax. Another of the Big 4 followed – KPMG, where I became involved in tax for PPP infrastructure projects, property tax and capital allowances.
Currently I am the Finance Director of Operis Group plc, and also head up the client facing Tax and Accounting team.
I decided to become involved with the WCoTA about 12 years ago, as an opportunity to broaden my network of tax colleagues in the City, and also to give something back to my profession and my community more widely through the charity initiatives. Gradually working my way up through contributions on various committees before joining the main Board (known as the Court), I rose through the ranks to become Master.
Could you explain what Livery Companies are, and what is their role in the Modern City?
As far back as the 13th century it was common for every city to have trade or craft guilds, such as the bakers, weavers, butchers etc. The guilds served a number of functions – to regulate standards and control quality within the trade itself, to encourage fellowship between members, and to provide for members and their families in sickness and old age if necessary.
The Livery Companies come out of the ancient guilds. The term Livery comes from the name for the gowns worn by members to identify which Company they were from – and which are still worn by liverymen today.
There are new guilds being formed all the time and recent ones include the HR Professionals, the Entrepreneurs and the Investment Managers. A modern guild needs to have raised a certain amount in charitable funds before it can apply to become a full Livery Company.
The Livery Companies comprise ancient trades, such as the Grocers, or Vintners, defunct trades such as Wheelwrights (wooden wheels) or Basketmakers, which is now an artisanal craft skill, to the super modern trades such as the Insurers, Actuaries, Management Consultants and International Bankers as well as my own Company, the Tax Advisers. My colleague, Jonathan Swan, is a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Educators, one of the newer Companies.
The Livery Companies are part of the pomp, ceremony and tradition of the City of London but they also have a role in the modern City, assisting the Lord Mayor, Sheriffs and City of London Corporation in promoting London as a business destination and raising funds for charity.
What is the role of the Worshipful Company of Tax Advisers?
The WCoTA shares the aims and activities of all Livery Companies but there are some things that make it unique. For example, it runs a Lord Mayor’s Briefing Group (LMBG) since being well informed about current tax issues is vital for the Lord Mayor, who has cabinet minister status. He or she spends about 50% of their time overseas promoting the City as a great business destination. The LMBG provides a detailed tax briefing on all countries to be visited, anticipating questions which may arise across the full spectrum of taxes. It also provides briefings on requested topics e.g. the introduction of VAT in the Gulf States, as we have access to a huge network of tax specialists giving their time pro bono.
The Tax Advisers are also part of the Financial Services Group (FSG) of Modern Livery Companies, a grouping of 13 professions and services which contribute to the business life of the City. The FSG also provides advice to the Lord Mayor for his or her overseas and UK visits on relevant business issues, and I was previously the WCoTA representative on the FSG before becoming Master.
During my Master’s year the WCoTA hosted “The Lord Mayor’s Tax Debates”, comprising two panel discussions which tackled some of the difficult tax and public trust issues of today. The event was reported on in the Financial Times.
The charitable outreach of the WCoTA has three strands; tax related charities such as TaxAid and Tax Help for Older People; City of London sponsored charities, such as Treloars School, set up by a former Lord Mayor, which gives severely disabled children life chances; supporting the initiatives of fellow Livery Companies, such as the trip of a lifetime to Disneyland, Paris for terminally ill children.
So what are the duties of a Livery Master?
There are two main aspects to the role, figurehead and managing director:
Firstly, representing your Company at events in the City and beyond – these can be lunches, dinners, lectures, church services, fund raisers, collaborative initiatives, charity events, commemorations etc. where you network on behalf of your Company. There are many functions and this will take up quite a bit of your time, but is great fun. Each Master only holds the position for a year, so will generally throw themselves into it. You meet many other Livery Masters and build friendships. If your Company has members outside London, as mine does, it is important to attend the events outside London as well.
Secondly, the Master’s role shares much in common with running a medium sized business. The Master runs the organisation for a year working largely with motivated volunteers, becoming involved in all aspects of the business. The Company will have a constitution, often a Royal Charter, plus regulations and ordinances which dictate what the Company can do. There are at least four major Court meetings a year, chaired by the Master, and a series of committees that meet on a different quarterly cycle to carry out their respective functions, e.g. charities, membership and social.
What were your top four highlights and what have you gained from this amazing experience?
Highlights in terms of events would include:
- The Lord Mayor’s banquet, a white tie affair at Mansion House in the presence of the Lord Mayor, Sheriffs and all 110 Livery Companies;
- Lunch with the Old Bailey Judges and the chance to sit in on a real life Old Bailey case;
- The summer reception at RAF Brize Norton with a parachute jump, historic and modern aircraft flypast, marching band and sunset ceremony;
- The Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace for services to civic life.
I have gained a fantastic network of great contacts, learned about different aspects of running a diverse organisation, increased my confidence in public speaking, learned how to better motivate people, and honed my time management skills.
Were there any aspects of your professional experience that have helped you during these 12 months and do you have any advice for people who would like to take on a similar role?
My own leadership experience including good organisational skills were all things I could bring to the party. Lecturing and delivering training on a variety of tax and accounting related topics was also good experience for public speaking as a Livery Master.
If you have the opportunity to do this role I would thoroughly recommend it as it will broaden your horizons, increase your inter-personal and management skills and enable you to acquire new contacts.
I worked full time while being a Livery Master which meant working pretty much every weekend to stay on top of things, but it is an experience I would not have missed for the world.
Morag is now Deputy Master for a year, standing in for the new Master as necessary.