Contractors back Liz Barclay as new Small Business Commissioner

A former business journalist and BBC finance presenter has been appointed as the permanent Small Business Commissioner.

Liz Barclay, who has also run Citizens Advice, will replace interim commissioner Philip King on July 1st, in a move contractor groups are welcoming, partly due to its timeliness.

Contractor debt recovery firm Safe Collections told ContractorUK: “Amid a very challenging economic outlook…[due to covid-19], a strong and effective commissioner will be needed.”

The firm’s Adam Home says that hopefully Ms Barclay will hit late payers “irrespective of their size,” so that all debtors start “doing their bit to keep the economy strong.”

'Great choice'

In a tweet, the FSB backed both the ex-charity CEO’s hiring and its timing, saying ending late payment “has never been more important as we seek to rebuild after a torrid year.”

Given it costs at least £2.5billion annually, Ms Barclay, a former Money Advice Trust CEO, is a “great choice” to tackle late payment, the Federation of Small Businesses also said.

But she has not owned a for-profit business (unlike the last full-time commissioner Paul Uppal), despite penning books on the tycoons Duncan Bannatyne and Sir Philip Green.

'Done a great deal'

IPSE isn’t deterred. “Over the years, Liz has done a great deal to raise awareness and appreciation for people who work for themselves,” the group’s Andy Chamberlain began yesterday.

“[She did this] both by advising [us] on key issues, and through her work at the MAT and Back in Business [-- a not-for-profit community company].”

In line with hopes she will champion contractors specifically, one of Ms Barclay’s latest tweets is on the entitlement of certain rights for the UK’s agency workers.

'Real culture change'

Accepting her appointment yesterday as SBC, she said: “We need a real culture change around business payments in the UK to take pressure off our phenomenal entrepreneurs.

“People who have already delivered goods and services have to be able to turn their attention to their next client and next order, rather than chasing up late payments and worrying about their cashflow.” 

The government said hiring Ms Barclay (a former financial columnist-turned financial adviser) as the SBC was part of a “suite of actions” it has taken to tackle late payment.

'Overwhelmingly positive'

Last month, the government reformed the Prompt Payment Code by halving how many days end-clients must pay 95% of their small supplier invoices by – to just 30 days.

The response from businesses to such a tightening in the code was “overwhelmingly positive” and more than 700 firms have signed up in the last year, Mr King said at the time.

But given he will step down at the end of the next quarter, it will be Ms Barclay who potentially gets to try out new, beefed-up powers for the Small Business Commissioner.

'Analysing feedback'

These additional powers were the subject of a government consultation which ran in October 2020, but which the government is currently “analysing feedback” in relation to.

Yet those new powers for the commissioner would ideally include an extension of its terms so ‘small to small’ cases can be pursued; a right to issue an information notice and a right to apply for court enforcement of such a notice.

In its consultation response, the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed also said that the SBC should be free to probe a specific instance of poor payment on its own initiative, or on receipt of a complaint from a third-party.

The business department yesterday said that it would publish the responses to the October consultation “in due course.”

'Pay creditors to agreed terms'

Whatever the outcome (about 15 additional powers are tabled in the consultation), Safe Collections’ Mr Home sounds as if he would favour a ‘back to basics’ approach from Ms Barclay.

In fact, despite 2021 being “a time of rapid change” and even with further changes “on the horizon”, clamping down on the “scourge of late payment” could simply mean the SBC focussing on ensuring companies “pay their creditors to agreed terms,” he said.

“I know from personal experience how damaging…to mental and emotional health [worrying about cash flow can be],” Ms Barclay said. “By working with businesses and ensuring their concerns are listened to, I hope to be able to deliver a payment regime that keeps cash flowing and works for everyone.”

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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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