Small Talk: Late payers are still pushing small companies to the wall despite the efforts of ministers

Lobbyists for special interest groups invariably demand tough action from government in favour of their particular cause – often seeking new legislation. Yet as small businesses have found out to their cost, even when such legislation makes it on to the statute book, there's no guarantee it will have the desired effect.

Seven years ago, after years of complaints from SMEs fed up with their cashflow being squeezed by bigger business partners, the Government passed the Late Payment of Commercial Debts Act. The aim was to speed up payments, particularly to vulnerable smaller companies. Unfortunately, the legislation has not delivered.

Research from Experian, the credit reference agency, shows that, on average, the typical British company now takes 60 days to pay its bills, a full two days longer than it did prior to the change of law in 2005.

As ever, it is SMEs that suffer. They take less time to pay their own bills – an average of 59 days – but have to wait more than 80 days for payment when working with a large company. And for every type of business, Experian's research suggests that the problem of late payments is getting worse rather than better. This year's figures are a marked deterioration on the position last year.

So what can be done about the problem, which groups such as the Forum of Private Business believes is driving otherwise viable SMEs to the wall? Well, the Government's response has been to reform a working group that disbanded four years ago after failing to persuade ministers to take further action on late payments.

Mark Prisk, the Business minister, insists that this time around, the late payment working group will be taken more seriously in Whitehall – but clearly, it is going to take some time to achieve anything meaningful.

In the meantime, Mr Prisk's government has disappointed many SMEs by failing to fast-track a new European directive on late payments into law. Ministers had previously suggested the legislation, which will set 30 days as the standard bill payment term, would be introduced this year – now they say the directive won't come into force until 2013, when it takes force across Europe.

Still, the last attempt at tackling the late payments problem with legislation suggests that without meaningful penalties, such initiatives are doomed to failure. And as one of the biggest contractors with the private sector of all, government does have real power. A ban on companies that repeatedly pay bills late from bidding for public-sector contracts might be just the stick that's needed.

Fluorite miner gets teeth into South African operation

Fluorspar, or fluorite, is not a mineral with which many people will be familiar, but it is used in products ranging from toothpaste to non-stick frying pans, as well as in industrial processes such as aluminium manufacturing. And one of its leading producers is a British company listed on the Aim.

Fluormin got its listing through a reverse takeover of Mahgreb Minerals last September, and has assets in South Africa and Tunisia.

In the latter country, the miner already has agreements in place with the commodities giant Glencore, but the latest news concerns its operation at the other end of the continent. It now owns 97 per cent of its flagship mine in South Africa, having just moved closer to the complete takeover of Sallies, the miner on the ground there (having bought all its ordinary shares, Fluormin is now mopping up its debentures).

The positive news has helped the company to hold on to the gains it has made since the shares dipped below 40p in November, with the stock now trading at 58p.

Security fears boost surveillance specialist Datong

Aim-listed Datong supplies governments and security agencies with covert tracking and location technology to combat crime and terrorism. Revenues have been resilient throughout the economic ups and downs of the past five years. last week a court ruled in its favour in a five-year patent case against a rival and Datong's shares closed on Friday at 28.5p, a gain of more than 15 per cent on the week.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
A boy holds a chick during the Russian National Agricultural Exhibition Golden Autumn 2014 in Moscow on October 9, 2014.
news
Life and Style
love + sex
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United 1 player ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Graduate Application Support Analyst

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Reach Volunteering: External Finance Trustee Needed!

Voluntary post, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Would you ...

Christine McCleave: FP&A Analyst

£36,000 - £40,000: Christine McCleave: Are you looking for a new opportunity a...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot