By Kristy Dorsey

Scottish accountancy veteran Aidan O’Carroll is drawing a line under his 35-year career at EY as he enters what he describes as “the next phase” of his professional life.

Today is the 63-year-old’s last as senior partner at the accounting giant, where for the past three years he has been based in Glasgow working primarily with Scotland’s family and private business sector. Prior to that, he spent 17 years running various business interests for EY out of London, but maintained the family home in his native country throughout.

“We made the conscious decision to raise our children in Scotland,” he said. “I was one of those itinerate commuters, spending Monday to Friday in London, or in other places around the world where work required, and then coming home at the weekends.”

He leaves EY as the accountancy profession and the wider business community face arguably the biggest challenge of the past century in rebuilding an economy crippled by Covid-19, but he is not totally bowing out of the fight. He will continue in his role as chair of the IoD in Scotland – a post he has held for the last two years – and is looking to expand his work as a non-executive director.

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A “born optimist”, Mr O’Carroll believes the new ways of working forced by measures to contain the pandemic offer an opportunity to turbo-charge business efficiency. He says EY has managed to switch all of its staff to home-based working without the need for redundancies or furlough, a testament to what can be achieved in the face of necessity.

That’s not to deny the obvious challenges, such as the immediate prospects for graduate recruitment.

“I don’t think” you will necessarily see a huge reduction in terms of numbers in the medium to long-term,” he said, “but I do see there will be pressures in the short-term coming out of Covid – that is inevitable.”

As for the profession as a whole, the push to embrace technology and data solutions will further intensify.

“Those that are able to adapt quickly and use technology effectively will come out of this, and we will still have high-quality firms providing high-quality advice,” he said. “The profession will come out of this very much intact, and hopefully better integrated with our clients.”

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Many of those business clients have been kept afloat these past months by a raft of Government support programmes ranging from income and job retention schemes through to business rates holidays and the deferral of tax payments.

Asked about the latter, Mr O’Carroll noted that VAT payments due from March 20 through to the end of June are due to be paid by the end of March 2021. However, it will be a matter of years before some businesses fully recover from the loss of trade during and after lockdown, meaning that many are likely to rely on “time to pay” provisions.

Unlike the initial VAT deferral, which was automatically applied to all businesses, time to pay arrangements must be agreed directly with HMRC. This suspends debt collection proceedings and allows firms to make instalment payments specific to their business circumstances.

“We will be hearing more from the Chancellor in the next few weeks in his next economic statement, and I am hopeful he will be supporting a helpful HMRC approach, as firms need time to repair their balance sheets,” he said.

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Mr O’Carroll spent the first 11 years of his working life as an inspector of taxes with HMRC before making the switch in 1985 to join Arthur Young McClelland Moores, a forerunner to EY. Apart from a brief stint at Rutherford Manson Dowds, which is now part of Deloitte, he remained at EY throughout a career focused on tax.

During the four years before his return to Scotland, he was head of global tax compliance and reporting services at EY. Once back in Glasgow, he cut back to four days a week at EY and took up his first external director’s post with ABE, a not-for-profit based in New Malden focused on improving business education for aspiring entrepreneurs in developing countries.

Having stayed on three years after the usual retirement age of 60 at EY, Mr O’Carroll said now is the right time for him to take that experience and move on to “my next phase”. He is looking for other non-executive roles, ideally with growing firms in Scotland’s family and private business sector, and is keen to lead IoD Scotland in playing its part in the country’s recovery from the Covid crisis.

“It has been a fantastic journey, but there is still lots to do,” he said. “Coming out of this crisis, we are going to have to be optimistic, but it will also require us to come through barriers a lot more quickly than has been the case in the past.”