Liz Barclay will be the first female to take up the Small Business Commissioner post, which was created in 2016 to help small businesses and the self-employed tackle late payment, amongst other issues impacting the independent workforce.
Barclay is not only a small business and consumer affairs broadcaster, producer and writer, but also an experienced campaigner and advocate for small businesses and freelancers. She is the Financial Inclusion Commissioner, Chair of the BSI Consumer Forum and the Fair by Design Campaign, and ambassador for the Money Advice Trust and Business Debtline.
She has worked with boards and small businesses on improving governance, trust and culture, diversity and understanding customer behaviour.
Barclay’s appointment comes as the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating the long-running problem of late payment amongst freelancers, contractors and small businesses.
According to Money Advice Trust, nearly three quarters (72 per cent) of self-employed people polled in November last year said that the pandemic had made late payment worse, with 38 per cent reporting an increase since the outbreak began.
More than £23.4 billion is owed in outstanding invoices to UK businesses, according to government figures, with some waiting months before paying suppliers. This has a significant impact on small and micro-businesses.
Barclay, who will take up the role of Small Business Commissioner on 1 July, will come into office at a time when it is expected that more powers to tackle late payment will be granted. This includes the ability to compel businesses to pay outstanding invoices, penalise late and non-payers through fines and wider grounds to launch investigations.
She said: “We need a real culture change around business payments in the UK to take pressure off our phenomenal entrepreneurs. People who have already delivered goods and services have to be able to turn their attention to their next client and next order rather than chasing up late payments and worrying about their cashflow.
“I know from personal experience how damaging that can be to mental and emotional health. By working with businesses and ensuring their concerns are listened to, I hope to be able to deliver a payment regime that keeps cash flowing and works for everyone.”
The news of Barclay’s appointment has been welcomed by industry bodies and experts. Joanna Elson CBE, Chief Executive of Money Advice Trust, said she couldn’t think of a “better choice” to take on the role.
She added: “Liz’s long-standing passion for advocating on behalf of small businesses means she undoubtedly brings the confidence of the small business sector to this role – which has never been more important than in the wake of COVID-19.
“Late payments are a problem affecting around half of the small business owners we help at Business Debtline. We look forward to continuing to work with the Small Business Commissioner team to help address this problem, which is crucial for the UK’s economic recovery.”
Barclay has previously spoken about some of the other challenges facing freelancers through her podcast, BackinBusiness. Her appointment comes at a crucial time as many self-employed people continue to face uncertainty following gaps in government support and the imminent rollout of IR35 reform in the private sector.
Contractor Weekly will be looking to speak to her as the Small Business Commissioner on how the government can better support freelancers going forward.