After a two-year search, the Government has appointed former Conservative MP Paul Uppal as the Small Business Commissioner – the individual to lead an independent office tasked with empowering every one of the UK’s 5.5million small businesses, with a focus on tackle late payment once and for all.
However, new research has surfaced to suggest that just 2% of freelancers and contractors believe the Government and new Commissioner will take the issue seriously. Statistics released by FreeAgent reflect the sheer size of the challenge, with just 51% of all invoices sent by freelancers and contractors paid on time last year.
With little to no confidence in the Commissioner’s ability or power to put an end to late payment, 70% of micro-businesses have instead urged the Government to penalise the worst offenders, and secure compensation from their late paying clients.
59% went on to state the need for a late payment code of conduct, which clients would be required to agree and adhere to. This is a sentiment echoed by IPSE, who have lobbied for the strengthening of the Prompt Payment Code.
Unsurprisingly, just 29% of micro-businesses believe naming and shaming the worst offenders would be of any benefit. It goes without saying that freelancers are understandably wary about jeopardising valuable client relationships.
FreeAgent CEO, Ed Molyneux welcomed Mr Uppal into his new role, but voiced concerns about the new Commissioner’s ability to actually make a difference.
“It’s good news that the government has finally appointed a Small Business Commissioner, with the specific remit of dealing with the late payment problem faced by micro-businesses. However, the reality is likely to be that Mr Uppal will actually have limited power to punish companies who routinely pay late, aside from just naming and shaming them.”
57% of small business owners were completely unaware there was to be a Small Business Commissioner appointed, which is an issue in itself.
Upon the appointment of Mr Uppal, Qdos Contractor CEO Seb Maley made it clear that instead of late payment, it is current tax system which affects UK freelancers and contractors most.
“The newly-established post and appointment of a small business commissioner marks an important step in the right direction. It sends a signal from the Government that they are actively looking to improve the landscape for freelancers and contractors.
“The government must work to win back the support of the self-employed. For Britain to be the best place in the world for new entrepreneurs, we need a tax system which works for everyone, and takes into consideration the added risk and lack of security this way of working brings.”
While it's all well and good to have ambitious plan to tackle late payment, it's the lack of the specifics which might well worry freelancers and contractors. A vision is one thing. The planning, execution and delivery is another thing altogether.
Actions speak louder than words, and Business Secretary Greg Clark’s rather bland welcoming statement will have done nothing to convince micro-businesses that this appointment will be a catalyst for change.
“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, providing jobs and opportunities across the country. Supporting Britain’s 5.5 million 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.”
Given the Government has previously appointed an Ambassador for Small Business, and a Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise, it remains to be seen whether this newly-established role will genuinely serve to benefit the UK’s 4.8million self-employed.
Are you confident the new Commissioner can drive change and truly tackle late payment?