By Claire West

The Forum of Private Business is carrying out the exercise to see how police forces fare on the issue of prompt payment, which is of huge importance to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

The move follows similar research which the Forum recently conducted on the payment practices of councils and NHS trusts.

The not-for-profit organisation submitted FoI requests to local authorities and health bodies across the UK to discover whether government directives urging public sector organisations to pay contractors and suppliers within 10 days were being adhered to.

Police forces each spend tens of millions of pounds every year on goods and services, ranging from communications equipment and IT support to vehicle recovery and catering. The Forum believes these contracts are worth a total of around £1.6 billion each year and, while no exact figures are readily available, SMEs are likely to carry out a significant proportion of the work available.

As such, the Forum this week sent out FoI requests to each of the 52 territorial police forces in the UK, along with British Transport Police.

Forum spokesperson Phil McCabe said: "Here at the Forum, we highlight poor payment practices among big businesses whenever we can. We recently entered multinational IT company Dell into our late payment Hall of Shame after we discovered it had extended its payment terms to suppliers./i]

[i]"However, many smaller businesses carry out work for public sector organisations, so we have been using the Freedom of Information Act to check that these organisations have been following instructions from central government, issued in the wake of the financial crisis, which compel them to pay their bills within 10 days, wherever possible.

"With annual procurement budgets running into tens or even hundreds of millions of pounds, police forces are a significant source of contract work for firms around the UK, so we want to ensure that they are supporting small businesses by processing invoices promptly."

Mr McCabe added: "Our members frequently cite late payment as one of the main problems facing their businesses. Many well-managed and viable businesses go to the wall every year simply because they are forced to wait too long for payments. This problem has worsened in the credit-starved conditions we have seen over the past two and a half years.

"This is obviously disastrous for them, but we firmly believe it also damages the wider economy, as it removes choice from the business-to-business marketplace and effectively creates a monopoly for the few firms with the cash reserves to stomach the long waits for payment."

Providing the forces involved respond to the requests within the legally-determined time limit of 20 working days, the Forum will be releasing the results of its research in late July.

The Forum lobbies against late payment through its Communications Director business support solution, uniting the voices of thousands of small businesses across the UK to ensure small businesses have an impact upon policy-making in government.

In addition, under its Finance Director solution, the Forum is helping members to get a grip on payment issues via its Credit Reporting, Debt Recovery and Business Monitoring member benefits. Also its online Credit Control Guide, which is available free of charge to full members of the Forum.