Search begins for £130k late payment tsar

The government has begun its search for a small business commissioner who will support SMEs in payment disputes with large customers.

The commissioner will provide support, advice and mediation services for small businesses that have been affected by late payments. The successful candidate is also expected to be a champion for SMEs and have an “appetite to become a national spokesperson” on payment issues, the government said.

The post was first proposed in July 2015 in response to the £23bn small businesses were owed in late payments at the time. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) now estimates this figure has climbed to £26.3bn.

The new commissioner will “play an integral role” in addressing barriers to growth for SMEs, an important part of the government’s modern industrial strategy launched last month, said Margot James, small business minister. “We all rely on the UK’s 5.5m small and medium-sized businesses for jobs, goods and services, and an unfair payment culture that hurts these firms has no place in an economy that works for all.”

Mike Cherry, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, who will sit on the recruitment panel, said he was “delighted… to be part of the selection process”.

In November last year, Cherry said the UK “risks having a business culture where it is acceptable not to pay SMEs on time”. Concerning the latest announcement, he said poor payment practices caused 50,000 business deaths each year and the commissioner “must be given the powers and resources to tackle this, to step in to save small firms… and to promote a payment prompt payment culture”.

Applications are open until 13 March and the successful candidate will be announced by the end of June.

The commissioner’s role is expected to be be full time and based in Birmingham, with a salary of up to £130,000 a year. Meanwhile, new reporting regulations that require large firms to disclose their payment terms will come into force in April. 

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