Small and medium-sized enterprises facing problems such as late payments and disputes with powerful large companies are sceptical that a new government-backed ombudsman will offer much respite, new research from Close Brothers Invoice Finance reveals. Three months after the former small business owner Paul Uppal finally began work as the Small Business Commissioner following a two-year search for the right candidate for the role, fewer than one in five SMEs believe the scheme will have a positive impact on their businesses.
The latest quarterly Close Brothers Invoice Business Barometer shows that just 16.2% of SMEs consider it likely that Mr Uppal’s appointment and the launch of the Small Business Commissioner will strengthen their hand. By contrast 41.8% expect the scheme to have no impact on their business, while 42% say they don’t know.
Close Brothers’ research also suggests that SMEs have clear priorities for Mr Uppal, who has maintained a relatively low profile since taking office. While 26.1% called for him to focus on providing additional resources and services to support SMEs, 15.2% want the Commissioner to concentrate on tackling the late payments crisis. A further 15% called for the priority to be providing support to SMEs in disputes with larger businesses.
The figures are likely to disappoint the government, with ministers insisting that the Small Business Commissioner has the powers and resources necessary to empower SMEs. The initiative was launched following complaints that previous government attempts to tackle the UK’s late payments culture had produced limited results. SME groups have also warned about the growing number of disputes between SMEs and large companies demanding unfair supply chain terms.
David Thomson, CEO Close Brothers Invoice Finance, said that the Small Business Commissioner now needed to demonstrate that the scheme can provide meaningful support to SMEs:
“While the launch of an independent ombudsman with powers to intervene on SMEs behalf is well-intentioned, the jury is out on whether it will have any significant impact. Our research suggests that many SMEs are far from convinced that the Commissioner is going to be able to provide them with the help they need on issues such as late payments.
“Mr Uppal needs to be given time to prove that the Small Business Commissioner really can make a difference on some of the difficult issues that threaten SMEs’ potential to thrive and grow. However, there is a great deal of work to do to prove this scheme really is going to help SMEs secure the support they need.”