EOW Reflections 06/10/2023

I spend half my life managing expectations. From the dog, first thing in the morning: Are we going out for a walk? Well, maybe later if the rain holds off but for now, I’ve got to go out and you can’t come with me’. I feel so bad as he slinks off to take it out on the cat. From the other half: What time will you finish tonight, and can we go for a drink? Well, maybe if I’m not too tired. I have wall to wall meetings’. From Small Businesses: ‘So you’ve got additional powers. That’s great. Will we be paid in 30 days in future?’ Well………….!

Sadly I’m not have so much success managing that particular expectation. Yes, the Government did announce during the Conservative Party Conference that there would be improved measures for tackling late payments. The steps we’ll take next will be set out in the Payments and Cashflow Review, soon I’m told, but I need people to know this will be the start of a long process. The steps themselves will need to be worked up into detailed proposals and approved by the Department for Business and Trade, or legislation will be required. And the legislative process is long, so please don’t expect my powers to expand any time soon.

Before I took on the role of Small Business Commissioner I was a small business owner who thought all you had to do was convince the relevant Minister and officials that change was required, present them with an obvious solution and change would happen. I thought change might take a few months, to give the tanker time to reset course a bit. Now I know better, so I want to manage expectations.

Some things the Government has announced will take years. If a change requires new legislation the process can be long and arduous. The Government has only so much time in which to get hundreds of pieces of legislation through the parliamentary process. The change you want to see may not be at the top of the list and may not make it into the King’s Speech. Even if it does, it may not be at the top of the agenda. Once it reaches the top of the pile it will be debated, amended, debated, amended, passed (or not as the case may be). It can take an inordinate amount of time before everyone who has a say is satisfied, it’s passed, and a date set for it to come into force.

As all that’s going on circumstances change, people change, ideas change, events disrupt the timetable. I will have come to the end of my role before the next Small Business Commissioner gets any additional powers.

I’m saying to all those small businesses out there, who are hoping our ‘new powers’ will make a big difference to the way they get paid, ‘don’t expect too much’. In the meantime, do all you can to protect yourself. Negotiate better payment terms in your contracts, get everything in writing, have good collections management processes in place, and be prepared to chase down those payments as soon as they come due. There’s a long way to go yet.