Tackling late payments, support for skills development and a review of VAT were top of the agenda as North East businesses met with the UK’s Small Business Commissioner.

The Commissioner, Liz Barclay, joined businesses at a lunchtime reception, hosted by accountants and business advisers Clive Owen LLP which has offices in Darlington, Durham, York and Middlesbrough.

The Office of the Small Business Commissioner (OSBC), established under the Enterprise Act 2016, plays a crucial role in addressing late payment and unfair payment practices in the private sector across the UK. Liz Barclay, the current Commissioner, leads the independent office, empowering small businesses to resolve disputes related to unfair payment practices and offering advice on actions to take when payments are overdue.

Statistics highlight the severity of the issue: one-third of payments to small businesses are late, with an average value of £6,142, leading to 20% of small businesses facing cash flow problems due to late payments. It is estimated that timely payments could boost the UK economy by £2.5 billion annually.

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Speaking at the event, the Commissioner, said: “It’s been great to meet with businesses in the North East. Small Businesses here have the same problems that small business in the rest of the country talk about.

“They talk about the national minimum wage, how that puts strain on business finances; how skills are in short supply in particular sectors. And of course, small businesses do a lot of the training and if you don’t have the small businesses doing that training, being able to afford to take on young people and apprentices, then we’re storing up a skills shortage and skills gap for the future as well.

The Northern Echo: UK’s Small Business Commissioner Liz Barclay in DarlingtonUK’s Small Business Commissioner Liz Barclay in Darlington (Image: Clive Owen)

“If I don’t get out to talk to people, I don’t know what’s going on. I need to hear from small businesses what is on their agenda. It is the 5.5 million small businesses that are really what drives the economy. But they also add so much in social value to the communities that they are working in. We need to think not just about the economic value of small businesses, but also the social value that they add to the UK.”

Chris Beaumont, Partner at Clive Owen LLP, said: “Our guests certainly gave her a lot to think about and take back to ministers to let them know what the real issues are holding back growth amongst SMEs in the North East, as well as across the country.

“The biggest takeaway from what businesses were saying at this event is that they want simplification in terms of how to access information and support to enable them to grow, employ more people and help support the UK’s economy.

“We find that hearing from and speaking to people like the Small Business Commissioner provides our clients and us with the best insight to grow and prosper.”