April/May 2019

The Office of the Small Business Commissioner

The Office of the Small Business Commissioner was launched in December 2017 ensuring fair trading practices for the UK’s 5.7 million small businesses.

What is the job of the Small Business Commissioner? What does it mean for businesses?
“We have been set up to support small businesses experiencing poor payment practices with larger businesses. If you find that you are getting paid late and this is resulting in unpredictable cash flow, please get in touch with us. Our services are free, confidential and we really can help. Our remit is national. Government decided they wanted to make us an independent body available to everybody, we are based in Birmingham, the centre of the UK and not in London like most people assume. To date we have managed to get £3.5 million for SMEs in payments which they probably wouldn’t have got otherwise”.

Are there any other areas (other than late/non-payment) you are working on?
“The primary issue is late payment, but late payment is often part of a bigger problem. When you are a small business you don’t always have the power or confidence to negotiate with a large business. Our remit is primarily focused around late-payments but what we do is advocate a culture change. We are a voice for small business and are taking action to tackle poor payment practices and end supply chain bullying”.

Are you lobbying for small businesses?
“I see my Office as a ‘Champion’ for small business. What we are finding is that so often the issue of late payment is a symptom of a much broader disease, and sometimes a big business simply pushes around smaller businesses just because they can. We want to hear about that kind of practice. I want to work collaboratively with small and large businesses, organisations and membership bodies to create a stronger UK economy”.

How do small businesses work with yourselves?
“Engage with us! Tell us your concerns, specifically around late payment. Even where it’s not necessarily ‘late’ but say is on a 120 days basis, tell us about it. Really what we want to engender is a culture change within the UK moving to 30 day payment terms as a standard. It’s not just an ethical thing – it makes economic sense. I speak to CEOs of large businesses regularly and the big picture is this – The sooner you pay your supply chain on time, the quicker that money comes back to you. The number one reason that small businesses don’t grow is because of unpredictable cash flow. When you can predict money coming in, you can take on staff, increase your production capabilities and grow your business. It has a hugely positive impact on the economy”.

Small businesses are concerned that by causing issues over long payment terms they may lose business. How can you help?
“If you are frustrated about your payment terms with larger businesses come and speak to us, we’re free and here to help. I appreciate it’s a difficult conversation to have. For us as an office, we want to give you the confidence to have that conversation. We’ve engaged with some very large businesses, and they’ve given us guarantees that SMEs will not lose their business with them. With our involvement, we can give you that kind of guarantee. You can remain anonymous if you wish, because we can still go in and act on your behalf”.

What influence does the Small Business Commissioner have?
“I have the power to ‘name and shame’ and publish reports when a large business is exercising poor payment practices however, like I said before, I want to work with both small and large businesses to share best practice and provide a long-term solution to a long-standing problem – not just grab a headline. My Office is seen as a trusted go-to body by government and other organisations in terms of shaping the culture of payment terms. We travel nationally encouraging conversations between small businesses and aim to establish confidence in business owners to ask for what they need – 30 day payment terms”.

To find out more contact Paul and his team on 0121 695 7755 or email paul.uppal@smallbusinesscommissioner.gov.uk