My ‘Be Fair – Pay on Time’ campaign against late payment has received another national award, this time a special Gold Award at the construction industry’s ‘Oscars’, the H&V News Awards, hosted by BBC Breakfast presenter Bill Turnbull and attended by 1,300 people last night.
I was honoured to receive this award on behalf of all the people who have contacted me in financial difficulty, due to late payments owed to their businesses and for the individuals and organisations who have campaigned with me to tackle late payments.
My campaign started in 2011 when a Saddleworth constituent told me how a household-name company was driving his business to the wall by consistently paying him late.
After a little research it was obvious that the issue wasn’t just a local one and it was costing small and medium enterprises £36bn a year across the UK. Shockingly that figure has now risen to over £39bn.
That’s why I decided to launch ‘Be Fair – Pay on Time’, but our first problem was we couldn’t find a local business who’d talk openly for fear of upsetting their larger clients.
Only husband and wife Ann and Harry, of Harry Long Ltd, a small Oldham based plumbing business, felt able to waive anonymity and I owe them my thanks for having the courage to step forward.
I firmly believe that late payments is a leadership issue with the payment culture of a company set by owners, CEOs and executive board members. It is widely accepted that tax evasion is immoral. I believe it’s time we viewed paying late; finding ways to pay late; or changing the pre-agreed payment terms of supply chain businesses to be as unethical as tax evasion.
I was delighted with both the award and the supportive comments I have received from business organisations, the construction sector and local people:-
After the event Rudi Klein, chief executive of the Specialist Engineering Contractors’ Group, a supporter of the Be Fair – Pay on Time campaign and the person who nominated me for the award, said: “Debbie thoroughly deserves this award since she is a lone campaigner helping small businesses faced with payment abuse by large companies.
“The problem is greater in construction than in many other sectors. This award shows that the construction industry fully appreciates the work she has done.”
Jim Marner, is president-elect of the Building and Engineering Services (B&ES), the construction industry trade association that sponsor the Gold Award. He presented the award to me (pictured) and said: “In the 20 years during which the B&ES has been sponsoring the Gold Award for outstanding service to construction, there has never been a more worthy winner than Debbie Abrahams.
“Late payment represents a long-standing concern for all of us, resulting as it does in negative cash flow, under-investment in skills and training, lack of innovation and, in extreme cases, business failure.
“The recommendations of Debbie’s all-party inquiry into Late Payments in Small and Medium-sized Enterprises are exactly what the industry needs to address these crucial issues, and Ms Abrahams deserves our deep gratitude for her enlightened initiative.”
When they heard that I was the winner of the special H&V Gold Award Ann Long, former director of Oldham based plumbers Harry Long Ltd who were forced out of business by late payments from larger companies, said: “I’m really delighted for Debbie as she thoroughly deserves this award after all the hard work she’s put into her campaign to protect small business owners in Oldham, Saddleworth, and beyond.
“For most of our 35 years in the business we worked with many small local companies who paid on time and, like us, held strong, honest values paying suppliers on time.
“However, I can say from our own bitter experience how larger companies have the buying power to stretch out the time it takes them to pay their bills to smaller companies.
“That’s why we need politicians like Debbie who are prepared to take on these large companies and tell them it’s not right to treat smaller companies as disposable.
“At the end of the day all small businesses need is to be paid on time for the work they’ve done but it seems for some larger companies their profits are more important than whether their supplier goes under or not.
“It’s astonishing what small companies have to put up with. Late payments are immoral, it’s as simple as that!”
Craig Dean, president of the Oldham Chamber of Commerce, said: “When businesses start treating their suppliers like financiers, not only does it hurt small businesses, and their employees, it hurts the economy as a whole; but most of all, withholding legitimate payments is immoral, unethical, and simply unfair. It’s also far too common.
“Debbie frequently shows her commitment to her constituency and the people of our community. With this award, she also demonstrates how much she cares for the hard working businesses and employers that hugely benefit our local and national economy, and how she is willing to fight for ethical business practices based on fairness and good sense.”
Toby Perkins, Labour’s shadow minister for small businesses said of the award: “Debbie is a dogged fighter for small businesses.
“No one has done more in this parliament to raise awareness of the egregious anti-business practice of late payments, and so no one deserves this award more.
“The next Labour government is committed to introducing a compulsory reporting regime to ensure that small businesses who are paid late by their larger suppliers automatically get paid the interest owed to them.
“We would also ban the practice of large business charging smaller firms just to get on their list of potential suppliers.”