Statement from the Genesis COVID 19 Working Party Chair Chris Parr
In the Business-to-Business (B2B) world, supplier payments are controlled by those powerful enough to force their creditors to wait. Major cash businesses, such as supermarkets, are operating as banks in disguise. They take payments, or “deposits”, from customers in return for goods that must be paid for immediately. However, many of the original suppliers of those goods are not paid until weeks or months later.
Of course, it’s not just the supermarkets. Many B2B business models are built on the basis that suppliers are not paid for weeks or months after the delivery of goods and services. The key is the time between the date of supply and the date of payment for that supply – the “payment gap”.
The payment gap makes money and costs money
Those with the cash can make it work for them – money makes money. However, those waiting for the cash are expected to finance their operations over the payment gap.
One person’s shoplifting is another’s trading
Go into a supermarket and fill a trolley. Proceed to the checkout and tell the assistant that you’ll pay in 30 -60 days. Then leave. Clearly, this will not work! However, imagine that you are a business that supplies to that same supermarket and tries to get them to pay on delivery. This will not work either. You’ll need to wait 30, 60, days, or even longer. This is called “trading”. See the difference?
Dark reality to turbocharged future
This crazy environment masks a huge, dark reality. Delayed payments cost the UK and global economies hundreds of millions of pounds every year.
If every buyer paid its bills on time, the cash flow effect inside the economy would be stunning with an effect like adding a free turbocharger. There would be no need for anyone to produce or sell any extra goods or services to be able to immediately boost the UK economy with a much-needed injection of liquidity. This would make a direct, bottom-line addition to the nations’ s cashflow simply by the act of paying on time, or early.
Let’s look at the numbers
In the current COVID-19 crisis, late payments seriously threaten the integrity of the supply chain and the viability of SME suppliers. Placing undue strain on the supply chain is a limiter to economic growth.
David Harrison, Founder of Payments Optimisation company, PaySavi, has stated (www.paysavi.com), “There really should be no reason for a supplier to suffer payment delays for goods or services that they have successfully and diligently delivered. Nor should they have to view chasing for late payments as part of normal business. The processes for paying suppliers on terms should be straightforward and effective solutions do exist. They do not have to be complex or confusing”.
Pay.UK has reported that late payment to SMEs, before C-19, had risen to £23.4bn, up £10.4 billion on the £13 billion owed in 2018. Late payments – typically larger companies delaying payment to smaller ones – will get worse through the C-19 period.
According to an analysis by PaySavi of the latest data on the UK Government’s Payment Practices website, 59% of the UK’s largest businesses pay their suppliers more than 30 days after invoices have been submitted. Nearly half report that 25% or more of the invoices they receive are not paid according to the terms agreed (Source: Payment Practice Reports: https://www.gov.uk/check-when-businesses-pay-invoices).
The case for change is compelling – something for nothing
By removing artificial blocks in the payments system, economic benefit will be generated simply because payments flow around the system earlier and faster. Everyone will be better off.
Step One: There should be a mandatory, and ethical obligation for invoices to be settled no later than the agreed date, with that date never being more than 30 days after the date of delivery of the underlying goods or services. This is not saying much more than: the payer should comply with the contract of sale. So, that shouldn’t be too hard, or too controversial.
Step Two: The initial 30-day period should be shortened, dramatically. Why not 5 days? Payment technologies have moved on and the UK has seen innovative solutions delivered by its FinTech businesses. The previous manual processes can be replaced by automation, with all the required checks and balances. Buyers and sellers can enjoy a win-win through prompt payment technologies.
It is possible to ensure that everyone can adjust, quickly to the new world – we are passing through unprecedented times, after all. The unthinkable has happened already. Things that, just a few weeks ago, were impossible to achieve have been achieved. Therefore, changing something simple, such as “time to pay”, should be easy.
Step Three: The new best practices pioneered by the UK will be adopted for international payments, further stimulating the economies of both the UK and its trading partners. Cross-border payment technologies have also evolved and the win-win scenarios for buyers and sellers will be clear and evident, not just through much-improved processes, but also through a recognition that optimising payments stimulates the world economy.
The Genesis Initiative
As we are all aware, as businesses are now being encouraged to go back to work, the SME sector faces its greatest challenge in our lifetimes, perhaps in many lifetimes. In the last few weeks, Genesis has been working on two objectives:
You will have seen that Genesis bulletins in recent weeks have focused on the immediate need to resolve short-term issues, such as liquidity and support for employment. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has developed what most believe to be powerful responses to support the SME sector. Nevertheless, that support has not gone far enough in supporting micro-businesses, especially those where directors draw income dividend. Also, insufficient attention has been paid to that greatest enemy of SME liquidity, late payment. Here, research shows that, even as businesses start to try to go back to work, too many larger businesses are still supporting their own liquidity by not paying their suppliers on time.
As noted in last weekend’s Financial Times, the best time to initiate a sovereign wealth fund is when the nation is flush with cash, the second-best time is when there seems to be little alternative. We are at that second-best time. The FT coverage drew on language which is becoming common. Genesis simply wants this idea to be out there.
The core Genesis proposition for the Sovereign Wealth Fund is that the nation would take equity and long term debt stakes to help SMEs get back growth. Like the US Small Business Administration, big-scale cuts risk and low fees can be charged to cover the costs of the service and the mentoring support it would also involve. The objective is not for the state to become a long-term owner of businesses, but that SME owners have the time they need to rebuild and can repay their debt to the nation when their business is healthy. The German KfW bank provides a similar precedent. In addition, the paper includes shorter-term proposals to increase liquidity and give businesses the confidence to get back on their feet, such as a government credit card to give up to £10,000 of liquidity in key areas of business spending.
Over the coming weeks, Genesis will be running campaigns, with partners, to reach politicians, civil servant, opinion formers and businesses themselves on the following issues.
If you think there are other particular campaigns Genesis should be running as part of the COVID 19 response, then please contact David Harvey DJH@DJAHPartners.com
At this difficult time, we send all Genesis colleagues our best wishes. Keep well!
John May David Harvey
Genesis Chairman Genesis Consultant Chief Executive (David stood down from this role in the summer of 2020)
SMEs internationally across our trading partners face the same COVID 19 issues. A report from Genesis board member Ambassador David Doyle sets out some of the main European developments, It can be downloaded at Genesis Initiative report on EU Institutional measures to aid SMEs – COVID-19
Dear Genesis Members and friends
I am very aware of the extent of the hardship that so many small businesses are being subjected to by the Coronavirus pandemic. I write to all Genesis members and friends to express my support, fellowship and particular sympathy.
SMEs are the bedrock of the British economy, employing millions of people and contributing hugely to the economy and to communities around the country. Thus, I too strongly support the Genesis proposals for a British Sovereign Wealth Fund to invest in SMEs at this time of the nation’s need.
Leading or working in a smaller business usually offers a balance of challenge as well as opportunity and achievement. Today though, I can remember no other such time of challenge in recent years. Few of us can have a clear idea of what the future might hold for British businesses, those that work in them and their essential suppliers, customers or partners.
Britain has been and will be one of the best places to run a small business. Though I am under no illusion about the test we all face now, we will recover and our smaller businesses will come back and thrive.
I send you every best wish for health and hope for you, those who work with you and for all your families.
HRH Prince Michael
The Genesis COVID-19 Working Party, Chris Parr (Chair), John May and David Harvey have been developing proposals for a National UK Sovereign Wealth Fund, to provide the SME community with a route out of the current crisis towards prosperity and growth.
OBJECTIVE- To regenerate the UK’s SMEs after the C-19 crisis.
CONCEPT - See SMEs as a vast, untapped, under-developed “natural” resource for the benefit of the UK as a whole.
METHOD – Create a root, trunk and branch structure – in the style of an oak tree – that spans the country and provides the core resources needed for SMEs to emerge from the C-19 crisis stronger and better able to survive and grow.
ROOT- A sovereign wealth fund (SWF) of the nation’s money.
TRUNK – Connected groups following the natural geography of the country – a central core carried by HS2 and other, existing communications pathways.
BRANCHES – Local groups dedicated to their area but also connected to the whole in order to give and take support. Similar to the proven structure adopted by the Small Business Administration in the USA.
PRECEDENT – Sovereign Wealth Funds already exist. There is no mystery in their structure. The discovery of oil and gas reserves saw SWFs created around the world – Norway was particularly successful.
PROCESS – SWF injects cash to SMEs via a simple to operate and easy to access system. The SWF immediately takes ownership of X% of the SME. The SME then uses the cash to drive its business. Over time, the SME can buy-back equity, but the SWF will always hold (e.g.) 5% of the enterprise – this is the long-term value creation element. Alternatively, the SME can sign-up to a more classical loan with a fixed interest rate.
METHOD – Use high-tech systems of internal management and control. Use audit systems to spot-check compliance. Create mentoring and support services, across the country.
Before the start of the pandemic, the Genesis policy team had begun to work on new sets of policy ideas for the SME sector. Life now is different and there will be much to reassess in coming months; thus the recent Genesis work on an SME focussed UK Sovereign Wealth Fund.
Business as usual work had looked at:
Of course, there is no business as usual today.
However, many of the ideas in the paper Genesis had prepared as the first instalment on some of the above topics are going to have similar or increased relevance when we move ahead. This includes issues such as late payment, online fraud and access to finance. So we thought we would share that draft paper, knowing that something or a rewrite will be necessary for a few months in our very different context.
The Genesis Initiative was formed to improve the quality of the debate on SMEs in the UK and Europe and create economic reform, driven by SMEs and supported by Parliamentarians.
Provide long-term patient funding to UK SMEs the government should establish a high street national brand similar to the US Small Business Administration or Germany’s KfW, fulfilling the need for long term capital and mentoring to give small businesses the confidence and skills to grow and so create jobs. While operating through local providers, the new agency should, like the US Small Business Administration, be one of if not the UK’s primary SME finance brand. SMEs have lost trust in traditional UK banking brands. A reluctance to borrow to grow because of those issues of mistrust contribute to the limited number of UK businesses deciding to enter the growth corridor where new jobs are made, and competitiveness grows on the international stage.
Stop online fraud through the digital platforms, recouping over 1 billion of tax revenues and protecting UK SMEs which are unfairly disadvantaged by importers using third-party online platforms (e.g. Amazon, eBay and Ali Baba among others). Lax UK regulations makes it easy for those importing into the UK via the platforms to evade VAT, ignore health and safety and basic quality standards and so achieve a massive cost advantage over UK businesses and other legitimate retailers. The net result of the current situation is both a massive shortfall in tax revenues that would support government services to the population as a whole and continuing and sometimes terminal pressure on UK SMEs.Digital Platforms and tax crime online – recouping £1 Bn revenue and protecting UK SMEs Digital Platforms and tax crime online – recouping £1 Bn revenue and protecting UK SMEs. You can see more here Digital Platforms and tax crime online – recouping £1 Bn revenue and protecting UK SMEs
To stop the heavy-handed approach of IR 35, which is stopping UK business being able to access vital flexible expertise and is about to be made even more difficult For almost three decades, the UK has enjoyed a competitive advantage through its businesses being able to access vital flexible expertise they need to deliver projects and drive the economy forward. The intermediaries’ legislation colloquially referred to as the IR35 tax rules (IR35) undergoes another major overhaul in April 2020. The impact of the changes is likely to be highly detrimental, particularly at a time when the UK economy needs to be nimble on its feet to deal with the potential opportunities and threats posed by Brexit. Many freelancers may choose to change their businesses or close them, many businesses that benefit from using freelancers may cease to do so. The Government needs to row back on the new tougher measures and needs to give start-up consulting and service businesses, in particular, a window to get themselves established before fitting them with IR 35 rules. You can see more here IR 35 – destroying flexible British SME expertise
To strengthen the power and reach of the Small Business Commissioner Shortly before the general election was declared Genesis met with Kelly Tolhurst, Small Business Minister, and her Labour shadow Bill Esterson, to call for reform of the Commissioner’s office after the general election.
The Genesis delegation, led by HRH Prince Michael of Kent, Founder Patron of Genesis, has just returned from a programme of meetings with Think Tanks, academics, political leaders and SME organisations in Washington DC. We went to find out what we could learn, what we could share and how we could generate new ideas together to strengthen the SME community.
“Through projects such as Opportunity Zones, the long-term lending schemes of the Smaller Business Administration, (this is in effect patient capital with low-interest loans over up to 25 years) plus work on entrepreneurship policy through the cutting edge of academic research, we found much to bring home,” said Genesis Consultant CEO David Harvey. “Equally we found many problems in common. Not enough small businesses are on the growth track towards employing 5, 50 or 500 people – and this is how prosperous new jobs, rather than survival jobs, are created in both our economies. Both economies have real challenges in developing enough STEM-skilled (science, technology, engineering and maths) young people. Both economies too are finding it challenging to provide the right offer for those in middle area skilled jobs in areas such as finance, junior management, hospitality, manufacturing and retail.”
“We found learning and fresh thinking in areas such as immigration, minority employment and start-ups, tax reform and measuring small business success. We discovered the entire patchwork quilt of policies across the 50 states of the USA and the opportunities that local knowledge and state and city government can provide with a real state-by-state localism. Equally, this localism and federalism also means it is sometimes very difficult to know what is really going in SME policy, driven and planned locally rather than from Washington DC. We saw that the success of the SME sector is enormously varied across the USA and an aggregate picture of growth and dynamism in one city shifts to decline in another. There is much here to learn for UK cities and towns and the often ignored rural and suburban areas of the UK, often feeling left behind the cities”.
Genesis would particularly like to thank our hosts and partners the Progressive Policy Institute, for this collaboration.
The Genesis Senate has discussed key proposals for the reform and empowerment of the Office of the Small Business Commissioner
The Small Business Commissioner was launched in 2017 to provide both scrutiny and public voice against bad payment practices. The office of the Commissioner also provides a mediation service to help small businesses, in particular, sought out ratepayers. As a member of the Genesis Board was able to report through direct experience, that service is extremely effective. “It knocks out the extra muscle which big businesses sometimes think they have again small ones that means they can ignore debts outstanding, once I involve the office of the Commissioner payment was almost instantaneous”.
However, the Senate sees two ways in which the powers of the Commissioner should be strengthened. Genesis had called for a more empowered role for the Commissioner, overseeing a number of other areas, before the post was created. In particular:
Here is the simple process you can use working through the office of the Commissioner – complain about late payment, the Commissioner Paul Uppal is active, his staff get things done.
Getting headspace for small business issues has been challenging with the national focus on Brexit. However, the SME debate may be starting to come back to life with the competition for a new Prime Minister.
Genesis made this submission in June on the minimum wage low pay commission response – June 2019. Genesis SME trade associations support a minimum wage. They also recognise the need for review and uplift for those on apprenticeship and training pathways, particularly for younger workers. However, Genesis recognises that a small business owner is often the last person to take a wage packet when things are tough and that it may not take much to shift a decision to employ a new trainee towards one not to advertise or create a vacancy. Genesis noted:
The Genesis Access to Finance Report was launched on the 29th of November in the Thames Pavilion at the House of Commons, hosted by Chris Davies MP and Anne Marie Morris MP. The report is based on the views of organisations, representing some 250,000 businesses, together with a range of lenders to business.
Despite concerns about a “funding gap” stopping the growth of UK SMEs, there is funding out there in abundance. This Report brings the thoughts and the aspirations from both the borrower and lender sides of the divide together. Particularly as a hangover from the global financial crisis of a decade ago, lack of confidence in lenders is one obstacle discouraging SME’s from adopting a growth trajectory; lack of a brokerage system that could bring SMEs and lenders together to build confidence is another.
Download the Genesis Access to Finance Report, produced by Genesis finance expert and Board member Adam Tyler and his team.
Genesis responded to the BEIS late payment consultation Creating a Responsible Business Culture. The response was initiated through the Genesis Senate at its September 2018 meeting and then finalised by a delegated working party, you can download it Responsible Payment Culture – the Genesis initiative response here. Genesis emphasised the following central points in its response:
• BEIS should focus on introducing e-invoicing technology and make it the Code of Practice standard, to move towards most payment being virtually instantaneous.
• There should be a clear definition of unfair payment terms, using the Irish Republic’s approach and adopting 30-day payment term as the legal norm, on a comply or explain basis.
• The SME Commissioner should be empowered, and the current advisory approach to individual cases should become an enforcement-based one, where the Commissioner could work in partnership with business associations through simple employment tribunal-like structures to secure rapid adjudication.
Genesis launched its Making Tax Digital report on the government’s proposals to digitise tax relationships, at a reception hosted by Mel Stride MP, Financial Secretary to the Treasury. The report can be accessed via this link MTD – Preparing SMEs to maximise the benefits “The government’s proposals to digitise tax relationships offer a tremendous opportunity to support small businesses develop better digital skills throughout their commercial activities. HMRC needs to provide that digital’s training and support to seize this opportunity”, said Genesis CEO, David Harvey.
The report looks at the post Brexit challenges to 350,000 UK financial services SMEs, authored by the Genesis Financial Services Working Party, led by Dr David Doyle. It can be downloaded here Brexit Defending financial services in the SME sector