By Jonathan Davies
A Small Business Commissioner will help businesses to tackle the growing issue of late payments, according to government plans.
Business minister Anna Soubry said the new role would help to reduce the "imbalance" between the UK's biggest and smallest companies. It is estimated that Britain's small businesses are chasing £26 billion in late payments.
As well as late payments, the government wants a Small Business Commissioner to tackle the issue of supply-chain bullying, where smaller suppliers are sometimes forced to pay some sort of fee to keep their contracts.
The government said the Small Business Commissioner would be the first point of call for advice and support in avoiding late payments, and chasing them if needed. The new conciliation service, which was announced in the Queen's Speech, aims to offer a mediation service that eliminates the high costs of going to court. The Small Business Commissioner would also lead investigations into complaints of unfair practice and regularly report on the findings. That could mean a similar 'name and shame' policy used by the government against minimum wage offenders.
Anna Soubry said she hopes the new role of the Small Business Commissioner will result in a "long-lasting culture change". She explained that a similar role in Australia had been a success.
"It [late payments] limits their growth and productivity, and can put an otherwise successful business at risk," she said.
"The small business commissioner will tackle the imbalance of bargaining power between small suppliers and large customers, and encourage them to get round the table."
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) welcomed plans for a Small Business Commissioner, but called for the role to made high profile.
John Allan, FSB national chairman, said: “We are encouraged by the Government’s consultation process which will include businesses of all sizes. But it’s important to ensure that the new Commissioner has the confidence of the entire business community, a clear focus on tackling supply chain bullying, and sufficient powers to intervene and resolve late-payment disputes in a timely and effective way. The Commissioner will have a unique overview of patterns of bad practice in late payment culture and should have the ability to refer these to the Competition and Markets Authority if those practices are considered harmful to the working of the market."