What does winning this award mean to you, Phil?
I was delighted to win the memcom "Outstanding Achiever" award in 2020, particularly because I was shortlisted and "highly commended" in 2019. To have my public affairs, policy and media achievements recognised by an experienced judging panel consisting of a diverse range of senior professionals from across the membership body sector, is a welcome and positive endorsement of work that whilst personally rewarding, I think has also been beneficial to wider society.
Talk us through your career path
Having studied politics at University it might have seemed like an obvious step to enter the world of politics after graduating but I was totally unsure what path to take and ended up going to China to lecture on International Trade at a University in Jiangsu province. Being the only European in a city of five million plus was certainly a unique and character building experience but I realised it wasn't the life for me and returned two years later to start working for a Member of Parliament.
Working for an MP provided a huge amount of practical political experience as well as regular interaction with the media, which served me well when, almost five years later, I moved to the London Institute of Banking & Finance to head up their public affairs and media relations department. I subsequently ran my own PR and public affairs consultancy for around seven years. This meant I got to work for all sorts of organisations including membership, trade and professional bodies as well as local authorities, FTSE listed companies and SMEs. These also covered a wide range of sectors from energy and financial services to education and healthcare. This was exposure that would probably have taken many more years to gain, or considerable job hopping, if following the traditional employed route rather than via consultancy.
Finally, in 2016, I returned to an in-house role with the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) a professional body with over 140,000 members. AAT provides bookkeeping and accountancy qualifications that are taken by approximately 90,000 students every year and has a further 50,000 full members, which includes 4,250 directly licensed accountants. Approximately 80% of the FTSE 100 has an AAT apprentice in its finance function and approximately 60% of our students work for or own their own small business so we straddle all shapes and sizes of organisation across the UK and beyond.
My role is to protect and promote members interests by engaging with policymakers from all political parties, government officials, regulators and a wide range of other stakeholders from the other professional bodies to businesses and academia.
What does a typical working day involve?
There's no such thing as a typical day because the role is so varied but a regular feature is drafting consultation and inquiry responses on a wide range of subjects from tax and accountancy to education, corporate governance and responsible business. Member engagement is also key, with regular member surveys, focus groups and the like helping inform these responses. Once submitted, sharing these submissions with organisations and bringing any key findings to the attention of relevant stakeholders helps to maximise influence and establish AAT as thought leaders and a credible source of reliable, insightful information. For example, sharing with MPs and Peers and encouraging the use of such submissions in debates and questions and drawing out key points for national and trade media.
Career highlight to date?
There have been so many it is very difficult to pinpoint one. I'll always remember my first national TV appearance back in 2006, less than a week after starting a new job and knowing next to nothing about the subject matter - a great learning curve! More recent public affairs campaign successes have been particularly satisfying because of the initial opposition to change and the eventual outcomes. For instance, persuading Government to introduce a Stamp Duty surcharge on overseas property investors, with the millions of pounds this will raise being allocated to homelessness projects, something that I was originally told had "zero chance of success." Similarly, over the last 12 months I was able to build a coalition of cross-party political support to ensure the Government compelled online platforms like eBay and Amazon to collect and remit VAT, saving over £1.5bn annually in VAT fraud. There had been some attempts by others to get the law changed here but for various reasons they hadn't proved successful. By getting senior figures in the Conservative, SNP, Liberal Democrat and Labour parties to table Parliamentary Questions, write and speak to the Chancellor and relevant Treasury Ministers, as well as to raise the issue in debates, sufficient pressure was applied to secure change. The new regime comes into force in January 2021 and will help tens of thousands of micro and small businesses across the UK who will no longer have to waste time accounting for VAT or face unfair competition from those avoiding VAT and therefore charging lower prices.
I'm hopeful that there will be many more highlights to come!
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