Message from the Small Business Commissioner

Ted Wigzell is the founder of Your Business Community (YBC).
I know Ted. I have done since he signed my up to a certain membership group about 12 years ago. Neither of us is still a member of that group, but there are some people you meet you are reluctant to let go.

It’s because Ted is absolutely passionate about small businesses, understands the issues owners and self-employed people face, and has been there himself. In an environment where we’re surrounded by people who have never run a business, and don’t understand what a small business is, it’s refreshing to have an organisation for small businesses run by someone who has run many of his own businesses.

It seems to me that, in the seven weeks I’ve been in the Small Business Commissioner’s chair, most people are talking about relatively big businesses and all the support and information is geared to firms that already have access to help if they need it. What about the 5.1 million small, small businesses, sole traders, micro businesses and freelancers who are the real backbone of the economy. They’re the ones who have the ideas, innovate, take risks, create jobs. We need to be listening to them and finding ways to support them as they grow and create more jobs and pay more tax into the exchequer. Ted understands that and as ‘Your Business Community’ members you do too.

So I need your help. I have three messages I need to get out to the business community in the UK. We have to respect small businesses as a vital part of the ecosystem, big contributor of jobs to the workforce and tax to the taxman; and we have to give them confidence to stand up and say ‘no’ when a bigger business wants them to do the work and wait 60/90/120 even 180 days before they get paid.

We need to change the culture of big business imposing long, delayed and unfair payment terms on firms that are offering skills and services that they themselves don’t have in-house. It’s not ethical, it’s bad for your reputation to have a culture of poor payment practices, and investors and potential employees with the skills you need are beginning to ask ‘what are your payment terms; how fairly do you treat your small suppliers.

We need better governance. The NEDs, Chair and CEOs need to know exactly what their firms’ payment practices are. They also need to know that waiting to get paid can damage not only a small firm but the mental health of the owner and employees, leading to breakdown in relationships, domestic debt and possible eviction or repossession. No responsible chair wants that on their CV.

We’re all in this together and we need to stop the practice of expecting small suppliers to jump for joy at getting a contract and accept that credit to keep them afloat while waiting to be paid is just par for the course.