The molecular biologist turned tax partner: Q&A with David Ward

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By Hannah Downie, CA Today

26 April 2017

David Ward, Tax partner at Johnston Carmichael, tells us how he has channeled his passion for science and technology into his role advising on R&D tax relief.

It’s a job that demands he is at the forefront of industry change and innovation, just don’t ask him how it goes down at dinner parties.

What do you do?

I lead the Innovation Taxes team at Johnston Carmichael, covering R&D tax credits and patent box.

What are the main challenges facing your area of work at the moment?  

Raising awareness of the relief available, especially among SMEs, and guiding companies through some very complex conditions.  

In the wider context of research and development, there’s also the uncertainty around continued access to European research funding and pan-European collaborative research projects as a result of Brexit.

How will you deal with these challenges?  

We stay at the forefront of changes in the industry, proactively engage with HMRC through the R&D consultative committee, and play our part in raising awareness among our clients through our network of offices across Scotland.

All too often we meet companies who have not been aware of the complex interactions between the R&D tax relief available to SMEs and the State Aid rules.

You will be speaking at ICAS annual Tax Conference which takes place on 23 May, Dealing with Tax in Uncertain Times, what will you be speaking on and what are the main issues in this area? 

I’ll be talking about funding and support for R&D, focusing on the interaction of grants and R&D tax relief.  

There are some complex interactions between the R&D tax relief available to SMEs and the State Aid rules around grant funding.  All too often we meet companies who have not been aware of these interactions and have applied for forms of grant funding that have had a net negative impact on the financial support available to them. 

I will be covering the issues, addressing common misconceptions and discussing the practical steps innovative companies should take to make the most of the different forms of support available.

David Ward

What do you most like about your job?

To advise companies claiming R&D tax relief you need to really understand the advances they are working to achieve in science and technology and the challenges they have to overcome.  Those are the conversations I enjoy the most.  

I feel I have come full circle in this, as I started out studying molecular biology at Edinburgh University and working in the summer on research projects at the Roslin Institute (home of Dolly the Sheep).  After university, I completed post-grad legal and tax qualifications and worked as a corporate tax lawyer in London for almost ten years.  

This is a career guaranteed to kill any dinner party conversation the moment someone asks: “What do you do?”

It’s great to be back in Scotland and getting back involved in the science and technology that always fascinated me.

... and what do you feel is most worthwhile? 

It’s great to see the positive impact that R&D tax credits can have on businesses, providing support at a time when it’s most needed to drive further investment and innovation.

What would you say to someone thinking of a career in tax?  

Go for it!  There’s a huge variety of roles and specialisms, so you’ll be able to find an area and role that you enjoy and that motivates you.  

Be prepared though, this is a career guaranteed to kill any dinner party conversation the moment someone asks: “What do you do?”  How did this interview start again...


The ICAS Tax Conference 2017 takes place at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Edinburgh on Tuesday 23 May. Cost: Members and Students: £192 Non-members: £234 CAPS Firm: £174. All prices include VAT.

Topics

  • Tax
  • CA life

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