Paul Uppal forced to quit as Small Business Commissioner

Paul Uppal has been forced to quit as Small Business Commissioner, just two years to the month since the government appointed him to be the first holder of the independent office.

The former Tory MP was not mentioned or thanked for his work in a .gov resignation announcement, except once to say he has stepped down, seemingly with immediate effect.

A conflict of interest is reportedly behind his resignation, said to relate to the 52-year-old’s involvement with the yet-to-operate Business Banking Resolution Service (BBRS).

'Active'

Despite still listed as "active" in a limited company behind the BBRS, terms Mr Uppal agreed to as SBC are seen to be at odds with his involvement in the service, the Times reported.  

A ‘framework’ document on the Small Business Commissioner’s office, unveiled by business officials in 2018, does not disclose the terms of the SBC which are now said to be in breach.

It does mention the SBC has duties though, such as to “act impartially in exercising the statutory functions of considering complaints from small businesses”. And the BBRS is a system to let small firms complain, specifically about banks.

'A pity'

Seeming not to care about the reason behind Mr Uppal’s untimely departure (he was soon to receive the widely called for power to fine late payers), individuals online said it was ‘a shame’ and ‘a pity’ the former businessman is being replaced.   

In fact, pending the appointment of an “interim” SBC, deputy pubs code adjudicator Fiona Dickie succeeds Mr Uppal, ahead of a campaign to find a permanent replacement, BEIS said.

An assessment panel of three professionals was used in 2017 to appoint Mr Uppal to the role (details of which are still available), which included Mike Cherry, chair of the Federation of Small Businesses.

'Will put the brakes on'

Speaking on Friday, Mr Cherry said that to lose the Birmingham-based former construction and real estate entrepreneur as SBC was “disappointing.”

“We’ve welcomed his efforts to name and shame larger companies, including Holland and Barrett, Bupa and Zurich, for poor payment practices,” the federation ‘s chair reflected.

“He also led efforts to reform the toothless Prompt Payment Code. [So] this is a disappointing development, one that will put the brakes on our efforts to date. The appointment process [to install his successor] needs to be efficient and thorough.”

'Momentum'

The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) agreed, saying Mr Uppal’s resignation would be regarded as “troubling news” by people who work for themselves.

“[It’s] vital the now-vacant Small Business Commissioner position is filled to maintain the momentum of the campaign against late payment,” said the association’s Andy Chamberlain.

“Especially after it was announced in June that the government was consulting on giving him more powers to tackle the UK’s poor payment culture.”

Last year, Mr Uppal admitted that if he was back running his property-related business, he probably would not come forward and use his own services as Small Business Commissioner, saying he would prefer to sort out any problem himself.

'Was doing his best'

Adam Home, senior manager at contractor debt recovery firm Safe Collections told ContractorUK: "We haven't always seen eye to eye with the Small Business Commissioner regarding late payments.

"But we've always felt that Paul Uppal understood the issues facing small and mid-sized firms and was doing his best to fulfill his remit as best he could.

"We can only hope the SBC's office now takes immediate and urgent steps to fill this vacancy with someone who understands the impact that late payments have on small businesses like contractors, and continues to press for improvements."

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Written by Simon Moore

Simon writes impartial news and engaging features for the contractor industry, covering, IR35, the loan charge and general tax and legislation.
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