The news from last Friday that the Government has removed Paul Uppal from his role as the Small Business Commissioner means that a new person or possibly group of people are needed to ensure this continues to progress. One of the clear concerns when Mr Uppal was appointed in 2017 was that this came straight after he lost his seat as a Tory MP at Theresa May’s catastrophic General Election. Most of the feedback I have seen from people who have worked with Paul since have been positive in terms of his role as SBC and indeed there are some strengths for someone to understand how the Government works and indeed to be respected by the current Government, but of course this makes it much harder for them to challenge the Government made up of their party! The current structure of what is referred to as the Small Business Commissioner rather than a SB Commission was Paul Uppal and two Non Executive Directors and then a small team which according to the website consists of 10 people. It seems clear that what is needed as a replacement for Paul Uppal is a group of individuals who like him have a small business background, but that they must be people who are not from an individual party political background. An ex MP is not a good criteria for someone to represent small businesses in a public manner. The strength of a single Commissioner is of course that the person is able to get a higher profile, but the down side is that they become more detached from their business connection as the role will be a difficult one to hold and to remain in a business setting with any credibility. The benefit of a group if a suitable team can be found is that they will come from different locations and will bring a range of skills that go further than one individual can achieve.
According to the current information on the website “The Small Business Commissioner (SBC) is an independent public body set up by Government under the Enterprise Act 2016 to tackle late payment and unfavourable payment practices in the private sector. The SBC covers the whole of the UK – England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.” and it then goes on to explain who Paul is and it is this which of course helps to explain why he has a breadth of knowledge but also that his business background is very narrow as indeed most small business backgrounds are bound to be.
“Launched in December 2017 the Small Business Commissioner, Paul Uppal, leads an independent office aimed at empowering small businesses in resolving disputes around late and unfair payment issues and provides advice, including on how to take action if a payment is overdue. The Commissioner’s priorities are reflective of his 20-year experience as a small business owner in the real estate sector, where he saw how even sound businesses could struggle when faced with a culture of late payment by customers.”
Clearly it is unhelpful that the text chooses not to also refer to his political background as either this is a good thing in which case it needs to be promoted or else it is indicative of the poor decision made by the current Government. It seems vital that this role is strengthened and doing so demands that people who are appointed are not from a party background or else the risk is every time the Government changes, the Commission members will be expected to be replaced! In addition we need a SBC that focuses on the theme identified which is short term payments, but that go further and also looks at how small businesses and micro businesses can find public sector contracts more accessible.