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Faster payment could unlock profits for small firms

15 June 2021

A new study has calculated that up to £60bn of additional revenue could be unlocked for small businesses if their large customers paid them on receipt of invoices.

Research published by the Good Business Pays movement has highlighted the huge positive economic impact that faster payment of invoices could have on small businesses and the wider UK economy.

The study, carried out by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), estimates that if small businesses invoices were paid on the day they were submitted, their revenues would increase by £40bn - £60bn per year. Prompt payment could also help small businesses create up to 460,000 extra jobs in the UK economy.

The study has found that small business profits would be between 1.8% and 2.7% higher in a scenario where they are paid instantly by large customers. Collective profits across the small business sector would rise by up to £6.3 billion per year.

However, despite significant efforts to tackle late payment by the government and leading business bodies it seems the pandemic has made things worse. The CEBR reports that COVID-19 has reversed the trend of improving payment times by Britain's large companies, with the average time taken to pay suppliers rising to over 37.4 days on average in 2020 - up from 36.4 days in 2019.

An estimated 2.3 million small businesses currently offer trade credit to their customers, of which almost half (1.1 million) report having problems with customers paying later than their agreed payment terms. Worryingly, the proportion of invoices paid later than 60 days has jumped by over 8% between 2019 and 2020 to one in seven (14.9%) of all invoices.

Terry Corby, chair of the Good Business Pays campaign, said: "Now, more than ever it is important for big companies to re-evaluate their payment terms to the small suppliers who helped keep them afloat … Making moves to pay invoices faster has never been easier, with tech-enabled systems available to help businesses pay quickly, reduce risk, increase efficiency and save cost. The next big step we need to take is making faster payments an industry standard, and one that both investors and customers expect from responsible businesses."

The findings reveal that the sector worst affected by late payment is professional services. More than a quarter of these businesses (28%) reported problems with customers paying late, followed by agriculture, mining and utilities (24%), then manufacturing and construction (22%). In contrast, in the arts, entertainment and recreation sector, just 7% of small businesses said they have had problems with customers paying later than their terms.

Commenting on the study, Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: "This research aligns with FSB's own findings that paying promptly would save 50,000 small firms a year, add billions to the economy and improve productivity through both efficiency and stopping small business owners having to chase payments."

The Good Business Pays movement was launched in May 2021 to encourage the UK's largest companies to fast track payments to small suppliers. It is backed by the FSB, the CBI, Make UK, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), the Institute of Directors (IoD) and the Creative Industries Federation .

Written by Rachel Miller.

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