I am on the train between Elgin and Inverness.

I had a meeting before I left and then made a phone call from the station. No rest for the wicked. But now I am on the train. No meetings, no phone calls and the sun is shining outside. Do you remember the old train advert “let the train take the strain”. Certainly feels like that at the moment. If the trolley came around just now I would probably get a cup of tea and a biscuit as a treat. It is probably best if it doesn’t make an appearance considering the large caramel brownie I had yesterday, that one of the girls in the office made and brought in. Rather nice! I am sure it would have been the low calorie version i.e. less calories than having two pieces.

Isn’t it funny how almost anywhere looks good when the sun shines and especially the spring sunshine. Is this the reason that spring has traditionally been the time when we see people scheming and planning. Spring was always the time that I ended up working on projections and business plans and it is much the same again this year.

However, the business landscape seems to be a funny mixture just now. On the one hand, we are seeing business owners planning, developing, and growing. But there seem to be a lot who just seem to have had enough. The stuffing has been knocked out of them. For them “sell, retire, put the feet up” seems to be the order of the day.

At the end of the day, either option is good for us. If you are growing, we can speak about accounting systems, business structures, projections etc. If you are selling up, we can talk about structuring the deal to minimise tax, and then prepare and submit the Capital Gains Tax Computations.

The firm that I trained with (many moons ago) also hedged their bets. They had various departments. So when the economy was booming the accounts, tax and audit departments did well. If there was a downturn, the insolvency department scored. I suppose there are always going to be winners and losers in any situation.

There are always factors that we cannot control. There will be people whose skills become redundant either through economic changes or with the march of technology. I suppose we are hit with both but it is the advances in technology that have the most profound effect on what we can do and how we do it.  A lot of the basic skills that I learned as a trainee are now unnecessary because our computers do all that stuff now, in a fraction of the time.

Working in tax can be particularly precarious. The Chancellor, almost on a whim, can remove a tax from the statute books on which you have based your career. I knew of barristers who did nothing other than Development Land Tax, and presumably made a pretty good living. Then, in a budget, it was abolished. There would have been some residual work after the abolition but presumably they went on to specialise in some other tax.

The myriad of changes of all descriptions means that accounting firms generally will now employ far fewer staff than they would have many years ago. I estimate that without computers we would need three times the number of staff. At one time most offices would have had either audio typists or short hand typists. At one time we had three audio typists who also looked after reception and did filing. Now the computers layout the accounts ready for printing and everything is filed electronically. For many of our clients we do not even post out accounts. They are uploaded to the cloud for approval.

I cannot remember the last time I used A3 analysis pads. I am not sure we still have any. But at one time they were used on virtually every set of accounts for the workings. We buy a fraction of the paper and envelopes that we did at one time. We don’t get letterheads printed either. The computers add the right letterhead and footer depending on the office, as and when required and it gets printed by us.

Bookkeeping has been revolutionised. No more hours spent writing up ledgers. In many cases you don’t need to enter anything. You link your cloud-based accounting software to your bank account and just download all the bank transactions. You scan your invoices and attach them to the entry in the software. No more boxes of files to be delivered to us.

But all these changes mean that jobs have either disappeared completely or they have evolved out of all recognition.

I sympathise with the people who are affected, but we are all affected by change in one way or another, and we all have to learn to evolve. We all have to learn to be flexible and to be prepared to learn new skills.

I suppose that this is one of the reasons why so many people in business have decided it is time to get out. No dog is too old to learn new tricks so I think it must be an attitude of mind.

Anyway, the sun isn’t shining so much now but the world still looks sunny to me.

Alan E Long

The Long Partnership

07770 738770



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