Allowing the small business commissioner to fine large businesses that treat small firms unfairly will give the government body “more teeth”, according to the NFRN

The Small Business Commissioner office was set up in 2017 to tackle the impact on small businesses of late payments by major firms. 

In 2018, small businesses commissioner Paul Uppal pledged to examine late payments and missing credits from news wholesalers Smiths News and Menzies Distribution. 

However, Uppal was “forced out” of the unpaid post in 2019. Uppal is reported to have fallen out of government favour after criticising the lack of resources and regulatory powers given to the body. 

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An estimated £23.4bn in late payments is owed to small and medium-sized businesses. The Small Business Commissioner office has recovered just £7.5m in late payments since its inception. 

The government promised a successor to Uppal would be found quickly and the body would soon be given more powers. However, a permanent replacement is yet to be appointed and the consultation on new powers only ended on Christmas Eve 2020. 

“Until now, it has been right to allow the Office of the Small Business Commissioner time to establish itself and exercise the powers afforded under existing legislation,” said Paul Scully, minister for small business, consumers and labour markets, when announcing the consultation. 

The consultation looked at allowing the small business commissioner to use court orders and financial penalties to force firms to hand over documents about late payments, and sanctions including financial penalties and payment plans for firms that fail to pay on time. 

More power to investigate unfair payment practices following complaints is also on the table. 

The NFRN said it had submitted evidence in the consultation. The trade group’s national president, Stuart Reddish, said: “We welcome the suggestion the SBC be given teeth to enforce the decisions he comes to in issues relating to late payments. It is important small businesses have this kind of support, particularly when dealing with big business, and it is good the government is moving in this direction.” 

For convenience stores and newsagents, a strengthened small business commissioner could help with issues faced in the news supply chain, late service payments into stores and missing advertising payments from digital media screen and finance companies such as Viewble Media and Grenke.