Business minister, Anna Soubry is no stranger to speaking her mind, rebuking Alex Salmond for his comment to her to “behave yourself woman” and amongst claims that she swore at Ed Miliband in the House of Commons, she has also given some fairly graphic descriptions of Nigel Farage… Becky Milligan, reporting from the BBC said of Anna Soubry, “If she sees a fight, her instinct is to jump right in, shouting “oi”. It’s a conscious decision she’s made to intervene…”

After her spell as the first female MP Defence Minister, ex criminal barrister Soubry is now appointed as the government’s small business minister. Small businesses must now hope that her strident, feisty approach targets her criminal legal training to ensure larger companies who seek to bully those smaller than themselves are brought to heel.

Exact figures vary, but at the lower estimates, moving £26bn of cash to small businesses (whose main source of cash is actually customer payments rather than bank finance) instead of keeping it locked up in the big business bank accounts of those very non-lending banks, has to be good news for the whole UK economy. Not often it gets a free £26bn stimulus – George Osborn, please take note.

Vince Cable’s Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 became law in March 2015. This has paved the way for Soubry to announce the appointment of a Small Business Commissioner to help tackle the issue of the estimated £26bn small firms are owed in late payments.

The BBC quoted from Paul Manning, who owns a medium-sized print business in London, saying he was often at the mercy of larger firms who deliberately paid late:

“The culture from small to large businesses is that to delay, ignore, query and drag out paying is ok as everyone does it” he said.

The issue for Ms Soubry, as the BBC’s Joe Lynam points out, is that the government knows there is an issue but is reluctant to legislate to force firms to pay their bills on time. It can only order its own civil servants to pay suppliers within 30 days. The compromise is to give SMEs a champion.

But that champion needs teeth, resources and credibility.

Ms Soubry said the culture of late payments to small firms was “simply unacceptable”. “It limits their growth and productivity, and can put an otherwise successful business at risk,” she said.

The Federation of Small Businesses has called for the new commissioner to have the power to refer large debtors to the Competition and Markets Authority.
Meanwhile the government has issued a consultation paper and has requested responses by 21st August 2015.

Cheriton urges everyone impacted by this issue to respond.