Over two years since the position was first tabled, the government has named its first small business commissioner with a pledge to drive a culture change within Britain’s supply chains.
By the end of 2017, Paul Uppal, a former Conservative MP for Wolverhampton South West and a small business owner in the real estate sector, will lead an independent office within the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to provide information and advice to owners of small firms regarding business disputes.
As expected, the commissioner’s priority will be leading the attack on late payments from large firms to smaller suppliers. The most recent research has put the total figure of invoices unpaid to small firms in Britain at £45bn, with the average business owner waiting on £16,250.
The small business commissioner was first announced in July 2015 by then-small business minister Anna Soubry. Soubry said the commissioner would act as a powerful representative for small business interests and “tackle the imbalance of bargaining power between small suppliers and large customers, and encourage them to get round the table and sort out disputes at a fraction of the cost going to court”.
Although BEIS has begun to increase the responsibility of large companies, introducing the Prompt Payment Code (PPC) and new reporting duties, expectations among small business owners regarding the impact of the incoming commissioner have remained low.
We asked readers how much confidence they had that a small business commissioner would improve their payments situation, and over three quarters said they had none whatsoever.
Nonetheless, Uppal responded to his appointment with a promise to use his 20 years of experience as a business owner to work in the interests of entrepreneurs.
“Running your own business can be a very lonely experience and my priority will be ensuring small firms feel supported as well as helping to create an overall impression that business isn’t necessarily cut throat,” he said in a statement.
“In fact, successful businesses are built on integrity, entrepreneurial spirit and trusting relationships and I want to highlight that Britain can be the best place in the world for new entrepreneurs to establish and grow their own businesses.”
The appointment was generally welcomed by the small business community, but calls immediately came voicing the scale of the challenge.
Mike Cherry, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said “the hard work now begins” to bring in the “billions of pounds” withheld at the top of the supply chain.
“If successful, this could see the beginning of the end for Britain’s poor payment culture,” Cherry added.
Meanwhile, the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE) also voiced its expectations for the commissioner. Simon McVicker, IPSE policy director, said Uppal needed to “hit the ground running” and address late payments as a matter of urgency.
“The average freelancer currently loses almost 20 days a year chasing invoices and this must change,” McVicker said.
Government business secretary Greg Clark talked up Uppal’s business credentials, claiming his background made him an ideal appointment.
“His extensive experience as a small business owner makes him perfectly suited to champion the interests of small business and bring about a change in culture that will create a level playing field for everyone,” Clark said in a statement.
“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, providing jobs and opportunities across the country. Supporting Britain’s 5.5m small businesses is at the heart of this government’s industrial strategy, and his ambition to tackle unfair payment practices will help support our goal to create an economy that works for all.”
Payments scandal: It’s not late payment, it’s unfair payment terms to start with
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