Elphicke Charlie LargeCharlie Elphicke is the Member of Parliament for Dover and Deal. Follow Charlie on Twitter.

Late payment to small businesses costs jobs. It stunts economic growth. Late
payment by government is particularly unacceptable. Recent figures show that
unaccountable quangos are the worst offenders. The Government was right to
launch Prompt Payment Day. Yet more could be done: the “Prompt Payment Code”
made compulsory for all public organisations, “Project Bank Accounts” rolled out
across Government, budget cuts for late payers, while Government contractors
that pay small business suppliers late should be fired.

Cash flow is one of the biggest problems which are faced almost exclusively by
small businesses. Large multinationals have the cash reserves to take a hit
when someone pays them late. For the small business it can be deadly. According
to the Federation of Small Business (FSB), more than 70% of small businesses
have experienced late payment in the last twelve months. This is unacceptable.
Small businesses simply don’t have the money to go after late payments in the
courts. Small wonder, then, that two thirds of small businesses have had to write
off invoices, with 20 per cent reporting that they have lost more than £5,000 in the

It is therefore very welcome that the Department for Business, Innovation and
Skills has launched Prompt Payment Day. This is designed to encourage
organisations to pay their supplier on time. Businesses are also being
encouraged to sign up to the “Prompt Payment Code”, a voluntary code whereby
they agree to pay their suppliers on time. Many public sector organisations
have signed up.

However, the reality hasn’t quite lived up to the ideal. In the most recent FSB
Annual Survey, 24 per cent of respondents indicated that they had experienced late
payment from the Ministry of Defence, 32 per cent with Central Government, 37 per cent with the
NHS and 32 per cent with EU Institutions. Worst of all, 39 per cent of respondents reported
that they had late payments from Government Agencies and Quangos.

The news that Quangos are not paying small businesses on time will come as
little surprise to most Conservatives. After all, what pressure can be put on
Quangos when most of them are totally unaccountable? Yet, given the enormous
financial power Government has as the paymaster, even stronger action could be
taken to stop small businesses suffering late payments from public sector
organisations. Here are three proposals:

  • All public organisations should be required to sign up to the
    “Prompt Payment Code”
    – Every public authority should be required to sign
    up to the “Prompt Payment Code. Any organisations that do not pay within the
    terms of the contract should be named and shamed, with budget cuts for
    persistent offenders.
  • Roll out more “Project Bank Accounts” – The Highways Agency has
    piloted “Project Bank Accounts”, an electronic system of paying subcontractors
    at the same time as prime contractors,
    and the Cabinet Office has begun moves to extend this in other areas of
    Government. This should be extended to all parts of Government as soon as
  • Restrict
    Government contracts from suppliers who don’t pay subcontractors on time
    – The rolling out of
    “Project Bank Accounts” will make a big difference. Yet more could be done.
    It’s really welcome that the Coalition Government has included rules in supply
    contracts that suppliers are expected to pay subcontractors within 30 days, but
    the sanctions should be tougher. The Government should be tough and say that
    suppliers to public organisations who don’t pay their subcontractors on time
    will lose out on future contracts.

Small businesses are the life blood of our
economy. They provide the entrepreneurs and the growth. They account for 6 out
of 10 business jobs in Britain. To do more to help small business get paid on
time is to do more for our economy and economic growth.