Founder of GM VAT Solutions, Lynn Gemmell CA, reveals how she helps clients handle VAT more effectively
Having initially taken on VAT work for her employers as a challenge, Lynn Gemmell CA CTA soon realised she’d found her niche. Now she offers no-nonsense practical advice via her Dunfermline-based practice, she tells Fraser Allen
Rarely has a “fiscal event” garnered as much public attention as incoming Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s tax-slashing statement in September. As a VAT specialist, Lynn Gemmell CA CTA had reason to take particular interest, given expectations of a possible cut in the rate. That didn’t materialise, but if there are any future changes in VAT legislation, Gemmell would be a good woman to speak to. After a tough period steering her fledgling business through the pandemic, she’s thriving on her decision to go it alone.
Having initially considered a career in science, the young Gemmell opted to study accountancy at Heriot-Watt University instead. This was followed by a CA traineeship at Scott & Paterson, in Edinburgh, subsequently part of Baker Tilly. With a growing interest in tax, she moved to Chiene + Tait, obtained her CTA and specialised in personal tax and trusts for a few years.
Yet since 2004 it’s been VAT all the way for Gemmell. “I always like there to be a clear answer or a solution to something, which I feel you can often – but not always – achieve with VAT,” she says. “But what swung it for me was that Chiene + Tait had an external consultant who handled their VAT back then. They wanted to bring it in-house and I was one of the few who said, ‘I’ll give it a go’. I wanted a new challenge and thought it would be good for my career. And once I got into it, I realised it was what I’d been looking for.”
Gemmell moved to Dunfermline to lead the VAT team at Condies, where the idea of running her own practice began to take shape. “I knew there might be opportunity for me to potentially head into a partnership position in the future, but rather than being part of a big group managing people, I realised I just wanted to be doing the work. So in March 2019, I decided to give it a shot,” she says.
She converted her garage into an office and launched Gemmell McGee VAT Solutions (McGee is her maiden name). Little did she know what was around the corner. “Covid-19 didn’t obliterate my business, but it had a massive impact,” she says. “A lot of my initial work was retainer work with other practices and when lockdown arrived that all stopped. So I had a few hairy months. But when the VAT reduction for the hospitality sector took place, I opted to do some more training and do ad hoc work with people who were in tricky situations because of the pandemic.”
Gemmell describes her approach to clients as “practical… I avoid jargon and offer no-nonsense advice because I want to help people understand the real-life implications. Because of that mindset, I also enjoy training people. I’ve recently launched a course for charities, and for accountancy practices with clients in the charity sector, which is very flexible in its delivery. Charities certainly fall into the category of clients who may face a lot of VAT issues but don’t necessarily have the resources to manage them.”
Gemmell has done a lot of firefighting for clients that may, for instance, be carrying out a property transaction or business deal for which VAT is a key element. She’s now moving into more structured review work where she looks at an organisation’s procedures, helping them with advice and a pro forma approach for handling VAT more effectively.
While Gemmell has a small support team helping with admin and marketing, she’s set to remain the only CA in the practice. She relishes that direct contact with clients, which are mainly charities and owner-managed businesses, particularly those operating in slightly trickier VAT areas, such as opticians, sports clubs and the travel industry.
“If you give people good service, they will come back and they will refer,” says Gemmell. “That’s where nearly all my work comes from and I’m lucky because there aren’t a lot of independent VAT advisers, and not many of those are women. The VAT discussion can be something that clients dread, so I like to leave them feeling a bit happier afterwards.”
Perhaps the new Chancellor would be advised to speak to Gemmell before any future fiscal events.