Ex-small business commissioner blames Whitehall for pushing him out

Paul Uppal, who stepped down in October, says government ignored his office, which he says needs more resources to tackle scourge of late payments

Paul Uppal, the ex-small business commissioner, has blamed Whitehall for pushing him out of a role which, he says, is under-resourced and ignored by government.

Uppal, who was appointed late payment watchdog in 2016, has told The Times that his office was met with  “radio silence” from civil servants and ministers over his approach to the job and that his budget was too small to tackle the “huge task” of getting big companies to pay small businesses on time.

>See also: Small Business Commissioner Q&A: Paul Uppal talks about late payments

The former late payment tzar left in October after a disagreement over an alleged conflict of interest related to an unpaid, interim advisory role in another government-backed small business scheme.

Uppal expressed his “shock” and “hurt” at how the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy handled the issue.

Chancellor Sajid Javid said last week that a successor to Uppal would be found quickly and that the role would be given more teeth.

>See also: How to tackle late payments to your small business

Uppal says that his successor would need more financial and strategic support from government. His last face-to-face meeting with a Whitehall official was back in February, he said. A significant amount of his office’s £1.3m budget was simply spent on salaries and the amount was not enough “if it is going to do the job”.

The watchdog needs regional offices – for example, in Wates and in Scotland – Uppal added, in addition to its headquarters in Birmingham. Managing the role from one office with only 10 staff was a “real stretch”, he said.

The Federation of Small Businesses estimates that 50,000 small businesses go under each year because of “pernicious” late payment, which costs the economy at least £2.5bn a year.

Labour small business minister Bill Esterson said that small companies were being failed because the commissioner does not have the resources “needed to do the job”.

A BEIS spokesman told The Times that Uppal’s role “ended in line with departmental guidelines following a breach of the terms of his appointment”.

Further reading on late payments

SMEs say late payments are a greater issue than they were a year ago

Avatar photo

Tim Adler

Tim Adler is group editor of Small Business, Growth Business and Information Age. He is a former commissioning editor at the Daily Telegraph, who has written for the Financial Times, The Times and the...