EOW Reflections: Happy New Year!

Happy 2024 to you all.

Reflecting on 2023 was sobering. We at the Office of the Small Business Commissioner have a very narrow remit. That means that in the majority of cases we haven’t been able to help people who contact us and have to signpost them to other sources of assistance. In many cases the only information we’ve been able to give is around how to take disputes to court. All of that left us feeling frustrated and impotent over the last year. Sometimes we spend more time explaining to people why we can’t help them than it would take to resolve the issue if we could help them.

However, I am starting 2024 with a sense of optimism.  The Payments and Cashflow Review, into the tools at the Government’s disposal to improve payment practices, included more than 30 recommendations. Some of those apply to our remit and the way our office functions. Each of the recommendations presents opportunity. I feel, as 2024 begins, that we have real opportunities for change.

Now the hard work begins. We need to assess where we are, where the gaps are, what new processes we need to put in place: how we get from where we are to where we need to be. We need your help on that. As the year goes on, and into 2025 too, we’ll be talking to businesses of all sizes, in all sectors at all stages of their development about what needs to be done to improve payment practices. We need to understand better the impact of poor payment practices on the economy, wider society, and local communities as well as the businesses themselves, and we need to understand the impact it would have on all of those, if payment practices were to improve.

We’re on it and the best news is that the Department for Business and Trade is on the same page. All change takes time though. Some of the changes we want to see will require primary legislation. Getting the legislation right and getting it through all the correct processes takes time. It also requires someone to see the need to improve payment practices as priority before it will get on the agenda. We’re starting work on that now and in the meantime looking to get any changes we can achieve without legislation underway quickly.

I know that 2024 will be a very tough year for many small businesses. The challenges remain with interest rates, costs, skills and labour shortages still very much of concern. We’ve already seen grim insolvency figures and some high-profile business failures and there will be many more before the year is out. However, there are signs that small businesses are doing what they do best: remaining impressively resilient and determined; innovating and coming up with creative solutions; adopting and adapting.

I’m determined we’ll carry on doing that too, so that we will be able to help more of the people who contact us while improving the understanding of why better payment practices are needed, have to be top of everyone’s agenda and will ultimately be the game changer for businesses, growth and productivity and for the wider economy. Here’s to 2024.