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Creating a Culture of Prompt Payment

Creating a Culture of Prompt Payment

Small businesses have grown increasingly frustrated at the slow progress that has been made in addressing the scourge of poor payment practices. This is not just a commercial problem – it is also ethically wrong. When large businesses pay late, it can put small firms out of business. It is as simple as that. It also creates a negative payment culture, one that runs through supply chains and throughout suppliers.

Under the terms of the 2011 Late Payment Directive, the period for payment in a business-to-business (B2B) contract should never exceed 60 calendar days, unless expressly agreed by both parties and provided that it is not grossly unfair to the creditor. In spite of this, poor payment practice now affects many of the 5.6 million small businesses that exist in the UK, leading to 50,000 British businesses closing their doors every year.(1)

The payment terms of some large businesses have grown from 30 days to well over 100 days in some cases, with instances of supply chain bullying rife. This reflects a wider cultural trend, where large businesses use payment terms to improve their margins and cash flow, at the expense of small suppliers. This harms small firms’ liquidity, seriously hampering their ability to invest, grow, and, in some cases, threatening their existence.

At present, 60% of all EU businesses are regularly paid late, with half of those businesses suffering payment delays of more than 90 days. For smaller companies, in particular, the probability of going bankrupt increases after six days of non-payment, which is why late payments still account for 25% of insolvencies in the EU.(2) The issue of late payments also varies considerably between Member States. For example, while the average EU business-to-business payment term fell from 56 days in 2011 to 34 days in 2018, the situation deteriorated in some Member States, with one third of businesses saying the problem had gotten worse.[3] Thus, it is time to take action and end the negative payment culture found across Europe.

(1) FSB report, ‘Time to Act’, 2016, available here.

(2) Comi report on implementation of Directive 2011/7/EU on combating late payment in commercial transactions, 11 December 2018, available here.

(3) Ibid

FSB suggests:

  • Prohibiting persistent late payers from all future OJEU public procurement contracts via a targeted revision of Article 57 of the EU’s Public Procurement Directive by adding poor payment practice as a mandatory ground for exclusion.
  • Putting into practice the Comi Report’s recommendations on late payments.(4)
  • Drawing-up an EU-Wide Action Plan on Late Payments: from the implementation of the duty to report to the commitment towards moving to 30-day payment terms.
  • Using Project Bank Accounts as a default option for all appropriate EU public procurement contracts.
  • Setting-up an EU Forum on Prompt Payment. This multi-stakeholder platform should explore best practices on tackling late payments in the different Member States, drive companies to commit towards 30-day payment terms as standard, and create an EU-wide database of companies that are signatories to prompt payment codes or display good payment practice.

Unlocking Small Business Productivity Through Innovation & Skills

Unlocking Small Business Productivity Through Innovation & Skills

A well-designed innovation policy should help the EU economy to grow. With the right conditions, smaller businesses have the potential to become more productive, more competitive, and export more. It is well established that innovative firms grow faster, have higher productivity, and are more resilient during difficult economic periods.

However, policymakers should not only focus new to on market changing innovations, important as they are. Of equal significance are the various business improvements that smaller businesses and sole traders can make to their goods, services, processes, organisational structure and marketing. These are most often ‘new to firm’ innovations. Research shows that the majority (76%) of smaller businesses have innovated in the last three years. Of those who have innovated, 25 per cent engaged in ‘new to market’ product innovation and 95 per cent have adopted a ‘new to firm’ innovation.(1)

There is clearly scope for improvement in the adoption of digital technologies. Fewer than half of smaller businesses in the UK have used cloud services (40%), online data storage or back up (37%) or file transfer technology (33%).(2) Combined with the scope for improvement in leadership and management practices, there is extraordinary latent potential to boost small business productivity.

Having skilled and experienced staff – and being skilled and experienced oneself – is crucial to running a successful, resilient and agile small business. Aside from the more tangible benefits of learning new skills, such as the creation of a new product or company website, training improves business competitiveness, efficiency, and longer-term effectiveness.

However, small businesses are already grappling with skills-related issues. Smaller businesses in the UK, as is the case across the EU, are struggling to fill skilled vacancies and contend with labour shortages, especially in the skilled trades.(3) Smaller businesses also face skill gaps amongst their existing employees, caused by a lack of fully proficient staff.

With the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the way that business owners, consumers and individuals interact with digital – and particularly with artificial intelligence (AI) – is changing. 32 per cent of small businesses think that AI would provide value to their business, and as business size grows, more small businesses think that AI would add value. With new devices and platforms emerging at a rapid pace, firms need the skills to take advantage of technology in order to remain responsive and competitive, or risk being left behind.

(1) Ibid.

(2) FSB report, ‘Spotlight on Innovation’, 2018, available here.

(3) FSB report, ‘Learning the Ropes’, 2017, 

FSB Suggests

  • Making existing skills initiatives and policies more inclusive of smaller businesses and sole traders, helping them to upskill and satisfy their skills demands.
  • Strengthening and implementing the action plan of the EU’s Digital Skills & Jobs Coalition.
  • Examining how both direct (match-funded grants and vouchers) and indirect funding (tax relief) can be used to support new to firm innovation.
  • Making existing innovation schemes such as R&D tax credits and Patent Box Tax Relief more effective and small business friendly.

Making Business A Place of Well-Being

Making Business A Place of Well-Being

The world of work has changed significantly in recent years, and is set to continue to change rapidly in the coming years. There are now more people than ever going it alone and setting up their own business and entering self-employment.1

Owning and running a business can be hugely rewarding, however running a business can also be hard. The demands, responsibilities, and risks faced by small business owners and the self-employed are essential for economic success, but also bring personal pressure. There are some pressures that are an inevitable consequence of running a business, but there are steps that all of us – society, businesses and employers, governments and individuals – can take to improve the health and wellbeing of those around us and ourselves.

Wellbeing at work can increase productivity through, for example, improving staff performance, reducing absenteeism, and improving employee engagement. Moreover, while businesses feel the benefits on the bottom line, the wider economy, government, and society as a whole feel the benefits as well. Small business owners can, and do, play a powerful role in improving the lives of their employees through a variety of actions - from innovative and new ideas to simple steps such as encouraging more physical activity and regular breaks.

Much of the toolkits and guidance produced on this topic is not tailored for smaller businesses. This is, in part, because running a small business or being self-employed is a markedly different experience to being involved in a larger company or the delivery of large scale public services – most small businesses will not have a HR department, for instance. The EU should work to remedy this lack of support.

1. Eurostat, ‘Business demography statistics’, available here.

    FSB suggests:

  • Publishing a Joint Action Plan with Member States on mental health & well-being in small businesses.
  • Producing EU-wide guidance on workplace wellbeing, with a range of practical ideas and best practice tailored to the self-employed and small businesses across Europe.

Setting a Global Standard on Better Law-Making

Setting a Global Standard on Better Law-Making

Small businesses play a central role in the economy. The start-up, entry into a market and growth of smaller businesses improves the efficiency of the economy. Smaller businesses place competitive pressure on incumbent or dominant businesses across different sectors. This drives the more efficient deployment of resources, both within businesses and across industries. It incentivises investment in the development and deployment of new products and services, as well as business processes and practices.

However, there are growing constraints on smaller firms from public policy decisions and regulation, many of which may seem justified on their own but cumulatively bear down on the small business community’s capacity to innovate, raise productivity and grow.

Small businesses recognise areas where some regulation has had a positive impact, such as workplace health and safety, certified standards, and company law, however nine out of 10 FSB members (88%) identified some aspect of regulation that was a barrier.1 Of those businesses that did, almost half (43%) highlighted the overall quantity.2 Over a quarter (28%) cited poor design, while just under a quarter (23%) cited overly complex or inconsistent language. Small firms often find the implementation and enforcement of regulation a particular challenge.3

Smaller firms are less resilient to regulatory changes, have fewer resources to adapt, are less able to absorb the costs of new administrative and regulatory requirements, and cannot spread the costs of obtaining information and acquiring knowledge about compliance across a larger cost base.4 Thus, it is important for EU policymakers to remember the main factors behind the greater impact of regulation on smaller businesses, as opposed to their larger counterparts.

Therefore, a narrower focus is needed on the impact of existing regulations on the small business community and the subsequent consequences for the competitiveness of industry and efficiency of markets. Small businesses need ambition: The cumulative burden of regulation is the aspect of regulation that is the biggest barrier to small business success.

1. FSB report, ‘Regulation Returned’, 2017, available here.

2, 3 & 4. Ibid.

FSB suggests:

  • Adopting strict rules on regulatory changes across the EU institutions that can help limit the cumulative burden. For example, the adoption of 'regulatory budgets' or 'one-in, three-out' rules that limit the scope for the REFIT programme and the scope of the legislative branches of the EU to add new rules.
  • Simplifying and improving the better regulation approach, the EU should ensure the timely development of proposals by applying the better regulation principles across all policy areas, as well as across all institutions. In addition, policy must be based upon robust data (which can be interrogated), and without a predetermined policy option in mind.
  • Improving the REFIT programme by asking deeper and more searching questions about the stock of existing regulations e.g. the rationale behind them, their necessity, if regulations are focused on the right targets, and if they are the best way to solve a problem.
  • Examining best practices in other jurisdictions, such as Canada and the United States.