Why the latest BIS report is like a weak cup of tea

Is the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) just like a very, very weak cup of tea?  Perhaps – and I hate weak tea.  I had an excess of it at an educational institution in the 1960’s and thought it had long since disappeared until I stopped at some services on the M1 recently.

There it was again! Pale coloured, insipid dishwater. Ugh!  Only this time it was £1.70. Not even good enough to dunk a digestive.

A report like weak tea…

Yes, you’ve guessed it, BIS has produced a 34 page report ‘Building a Responsible Payment Culture’ saying very little indeed of substance.  In fact it lacks clarity and firm foundation throughout.

To give you a feel for the weakness of the document, the strongest assertion was in one area of reform in the public sector which was “subject to parliamentary time”.  I smell the delicate aroma of long grass there, don’t you?

The Foreword states that “The measures we set out will mark a significant step forward in establishing the responsible payment culture that UK businesses need to thrive”. So where is this significant step forward? Where is the real bite that UK industry so badly needs?

Whilst it is true that legislation cannot solve the endemic refusal to pay on time – the under-used and under exploited Late Payment Acts have shown us that – I do believe that strong support for our legal system, and late payment remedies, at the legal end of the chain can only help. 

Weak and slow government action

Sadly the Government has form when it comes to late payment. They have acted too slowly, too weakly and implemented changes that run contrary to their proclamations of support for businesses, particularly the small businesses that serve as the engine room of the UK’s fragile economy.

The European Directive last year (2011/7/EU) was adopted by the Government as late as possible, and I have seen no initiatives at all for buttressing “the recovery of costs” for legal collections, or anything like it.

It’s no good implementing regulations if you don’t give businesses the wherewithal to take advantage of them. Then earlier this year Court fees were doubled – a classic own goal by the Government and a massive step in the opposite direction!

Regardless of party affiliations, we all know that politics is the art of sounding like they might do the possible, and then doing nothing.  There are some nice sounds about supporting industry organisations like the ICM, and the Prompt Payment Code, but they’re not really taking on board the heart of the issue about Big Business imposing ‘unfair payment terms’.

I have to wholeheartedly support Chief Executive of the ICM, Philip King’s response that the Government has ducked the issue stating that “what is critical is the certainty of payment, more than being caught in arguments over 30 or 60 day terms.”

At the end of the day, we all know who the serial late payment offenders are and it’s about time the Government implemented some changes with real clarity and bite.

And on that note, I’m off for a good strong mug of builder’s brew.

Written by Charles Wilson, CEO, Lovetts PLc