[Mr Jim Hood in the Chair] — Late Payments (SMEs)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:45 am on 14th September 2011.

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Photo of Lorely Burt Lorely Burt Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party 9:45 am, 14th September 2011

I am grateful for that intervention. It is an excellent idea, and perhaps the Minister will address it when he responds.

The Companies Act 1985 requires public companies to submit their payment terms, but that has not been properly enforced. The Federation of Small Businesses has suggested that more resources be put into the policing of that requirement. Many companies write warm and woolly words about how socially responsible they are, but if that is not backed up with action and a declaration of their terms so that they can be measured against those terms, their warm words about how corporately responsible they are cannot be measured.

The House is scrutinising the late payment directive. The Government are challenging the EU to reduce the threshold at which payment is made from 30 days to 10 days, and, if that can be achieved, it will be admirable. It is, however, something that we can impose on ourselves in this country today.

The FSB suggests that we should introduce a social clause for sub-contractors. First-tier suppliers are often paid promptly but keep the little guys further down the supply chain waiting. If first-tier suppliers are being paid quickly it should be extended to everyone down the supply chain, and the further down the supply chain a business is the more important prompt payment is to it. I should be interested to hear the Minister’s views on that.

On public sector procurement, there is an aspiration to simplify applications for approved supplier status and make them manageable for small businesses. What progress have the Government made with that? If small businesses can contract directly with Government bodies, their cash flows will be much improved.

I should like to ask about the enterprise finance guarantee, the aim of which is to make £2 billion available to viable small businesses without credit history or collateral. The Minister might not have the figures to hand, but I should be interested to hear how that is going.

The Government have an aspiration to award 25% of their procurement to small businesses. We are making great progress towards achieving that self-imposed target, but will the Minister update Members on it, either this morning or later?