From the top · 13 February 2017

Applications open for long-awaited small business commissioner

margot-james
Small business minister Margot James will make the final appointment decision

The government has opened applications to become the UK’s first small business commissioner, to help the country’s small business owners resolve payment disputes with large customers.

The successful candidate will work on behalf of Britain’s small firms in government, providing general information, handling complaints and directing small business owners towards the right payment dispute resolution services.

First introduced in July 2015 as part of a wider government plan to tackle Britain’s late payment problems, news that an individual will now be appointed to the long-awaited role will be welcomed by the small business community.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has said the successful candidate will have credibility amongst both large and small businesses, be experienced in resolving payment disputes and will have a strong appetite to become a national small business champion.

Applications will run from 12 February to 13 March 2017, with the final appointment decision to be made by secretary of state Margot James, supported by a panel of judges amongst which will be national chairman at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), Mike Cherry.

Commenting on start of the search process, James reiterated the significance of the small business commissioner to the government’s overall strategy against late payments.

“We all rely on the UK’s 5.5m small businesses and an unfair payment culture that hurts these firms has no place in an economy that works for all,” she said.

“This is why we are looking for an exceptional individual to help smaller firms resolve payment disputes and champion a culture change in how businesses work together.”

Once appointed, it is likely the small business commissioner’s office will be based in Birmingham. The appointment is one of several measures to be introduced at the start of 2017 to drive a change in payment culture between UK businesses.

In April, new regulations will force bigger companies to publish regular reports on the time it takes them to pay their suppliers, holding a spotlight over all poor payment practices.

James went on to say: “Addressing the barriers businesses face when scaling up and growing is an important part of a modern industrial strategy, and this appointment will play an integral role in ensuring small businesses have the support they need to thrive and grow.”

Recent FSB research found that poor payment practices continue to hamper UK business, with 50,000 business deaths a year caused by late or non-payment.

In a statement, Cherry said that the commissioner must be given enough power and resources to help tackle these endemic problems, and to “step step in to save small firms whose livelihoods are under threat, and to promote a prompt payment culture right across the economy.”

Industrial strategy: Theresa May unveils ten-point plan to grow economy. 

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Fred Heritage is deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London. He previously worked as a reporter at Global Trade Review magazine.

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