Business minister, Anna  Soubry is planning to appoint a Small Business Commissioner whose services will enable smaller firms to resolve disputes with other businesses and, in some circumstances, public bodies quickly and easily, preserving important commercial relationships and without the need to go to Court.

Its key functions will be:

  •  Providing information, general advice and signposting

  • Offering mediation to resolve disputes

  • Dealing with complaints

In a consultation document, the following 20 questions are being asked.

Cheriton urges all small business to consider them and where appropraite respond. The response documents both email and on-line are linked below.

20 questions:

  1. What evidence do you have of unfair or unfavourable treatment of small businesses in contract negotiations during the last 2 years?
  2. What circumstances can make these practices unfair to small businesses?
  3. Have you ever tried to challenge proposed contract terms or arrangements, or refused to enter a contract including terms, that are unfavourable or you believe are unfair?
  4. Do you have concerns about any of the practices listed in i-vii below?
  5. Are there circumstances in which the practices listed in i-vii below are acceptable? Are there circumstances in which they can benefit suppliers
  6. Have you ever experienced any of the practices listed in i-vii below?
    •  i. Extended payment terms
    • ii. Prompt Payment discounts
    • iii. “Pay to Stay” clauses
    • iv. Retrospective discounting
    • v. Stocking & listing fees
    • vi. Marketing contributions
    • vii. Damage/waste payments
  7. Are there other unfavourable or unfair payment practices which you have encountered? Please provide examples (these may be anonymised).
  8. If you are a small business – or a representative organisation for small businesses – what could be done to encourage more businesses to claim interest and late payment charges where appropriate and create an environment in which this is considered the norm?
  9. How could the new Commissioner be helpful in resolving late payment disputes?
  10. Have you ever taken action to resolve disputes about wider supply chain issues? If yes, under what circumstances and what was the outcome? If not, what deterred you? (Examples may be anonymised.)
  11. How could the new Commissioner be helpful in resolving those supply chain disputes?
  12. Do you agree that the Commissioner should provide general information and advice to small businesses on a confidential basis, in relation to a dispute with businesses which are medium-sized or large?
  13. Are you aware of other advice services for small businesses that assist with dispute resolution, If yes have you used them? If yes, please describe your experience and whether it was positive or negative. If no, why did you decide not to use the advice service
  14. Would you consider using a mediation service to support you in settling a dispute with another business?
  15. Are there any barriers that would prevent you from using a mediation service? If yes please explain.
  16. Do you agree that the Small Business Commissioner should offer mediation (whether in-house or via a third party)? If yes, please say what specific gaps might it fill between other existing services or what specific added value might it offer?
  17. Do you agree that the Small Business Commissioner should be able to adopt either or both of the measures set out in paragraphs 7.17 and 7.18 to encourage meaningful participation in mediation?
  18. Are there any measures to encourage meaningful participation in mediation you think should not be used or others we have missed? Please explain your reasoning.
  19. Do you agree with the framework set out in chapter 3 for the following:
    1. Looking into individual complaints?
    2. Making recommendations including the factors to be taken into account? What factors do you think should be considered by a Commissioner in deciding if the behaviour of a business has been fair and reasonable?
    3. Publishing information about specific findings?
    4. Producing annual reports?
  20. Comments on the outline of costs and benefits on pages 23-24 are welcome. For example are there any additional costs or benefits that you identify being associated with the establishment of the Service? Please provide any analysis you may have to inform our costs and benefits assessment.

Do you have any other comments that might aid the consultation process as a whole?