z August 2022 - Saltare

Small and medium sized enterprises are the backbone of the UK economy. They are integral to continued economic growth and are a feature of everyday life for the vast majority of UK citizens. The problems they face impact us all. Right now, late payments are one of the biggest issues affecting these businesses. Research from Barclays shows that three in five SMEs are currently owed money from late payments.

Late payments leave many SMEs struggling to maintain healthy cash flow, putting their futures at risk. And a struggling small business sector affects everyone within the supply chain, including large organisations and the UK economy as a whole. It places additional pressure on every aspect of the country’s economy, at a time when many companies could do without it.

The bigger SME picture

At the start of 2021, SMEs accounted for 99.9% of the UK’s business population (GOV). The UK government distinguishes between micro, small and medium businesses in the following way (GOV):

  • Micro business – less than 10 employees and an annual turnover under £2 million
  • Small business – less than 50 employees and an annual turnover under £10 million
  • Medium business – less than 250 employees and an annual turnover under £50 million

This distribution demonstrates just how dominant SMEs are in the UK commercial landscape. They outnumber any other type of business by a considerable amount and are the principal driving force behind the UK economy. Though they may be the driving force, they’re by no means in the driving seat. Often, smaller businesses are at the mercy of the larger organisations they interact with.

Nowhere is this more evident than the issue of payments. Larger companies typically have the power to dictate payment terms to SMEs. This results in long terms that can impact cash flow and put them under significant pressure. Even worse, some larger companies regularly break the terms of the arrangement and pay late, leaving some small and micro businesses struggling to make ends meet.

However, late payments are not just an issue for smaller businesses. They affect larger companies, too. In this series of blogs, we look at how late payments impact the entire business landscape – from sole traders to multinational corporations. Today, drawing on our recent conversation with Liz Barclay, the Small Business Commissioner, we begin by providing a general overview of the effect late payments have on organisations of all sizes.

State of late payment

In a recent conversation with the Small Business Commissioner, Liz Barclay highlighted how widespread late payments are. “We’re still seeing around 40% of invoices not being paid to terms,” she noted. “15% of those invoices aren’t chased by small businesses because they simply don’t have the resources.”

However, it would be wrong to suggest that this is an entirely new problem. The power imbalance between larger organisations and the SMEs that play vital roles in their supply chains has existed for many years: late payments have caused issues in the past, just as they do now.

“E-commerce and cloud accounting solutions have made a lot of difference over the last 15 years,” Liz Barclay explained. By automating key processes and ensuring there is greater transparency in the payment process, digital technology has ensured average payment terms have gradually decreased.”

However, small businesses still struggle to chase invoices. They do so for a range of reasons. Chief amongst them are a lack of time, money and staff availability. Smaller businesses often operate on slim margins, with little room to manoeuvre. This means they can’t chase payments without impacting other areas of the company. Even when they can do so, there is no guarantee that payment will be made promptly.

Let’s take a closer look at what late payments mean for small and medium sized businesses.

Late payment is a productivity problem

UK SMEs spend 900,000 hours a day chasing and dealing with late payments. This is a remarkable waste of companies’ time and resources and considerably impacts other aspects of the business. Essentially, time spent processing late payments is time not spent on tasks that add value to the business.

Liz Barclay argued convincingly that this makes late payment a productivity issue for small and micro businesses. “It’s time that you’re not putting into planning your business, building your business or thinking about getting new customers,” she said. Repurposing staff to chase late invoices or taking time out of your day to try and organise payment means you cannot focus on those parts of your business that matter most.

In an increasingly competitive business landscape, productivity is key to realising an advantage over your competitors. Small businesses need every spare minute they can muster to stay afloat, maintain momentum and continue growing. Robbing smaller organisations of that time will lead to more firms struggling and fewer surviving.

Uncertainty is the enemy

Long payment terms – where companies arrange a latest payment date that is relatively far down the line – can be problematic. However, they are nowhere near as much of an issue as late payments. This is because late payments introduce an element that no small business can account for – uncertainty.

Long payment terms might not be ideal, but at least they guarantee the small business will receive payment by a specific date. This allows the business owners to plan and mitigate the long terms. Business owners cannot plan for late payments. They do not know when they will receive payment, and they have no way to compensate for, or plan around, the large hole in their finances.

Liz Barclay explained why this is such a significant issue. “Purely economically, small businesses go to the wall if they can’t manage their cash flow. They can’t manage their cash flow if there’s no certainty, and they don’t know when they will get paid. They need to know when the money will hit the bank account.”

Uncertainty doesn’t just make it challenging to plan. It also makes small businesses wary of investing in their future. As Liz Barclay suggested “Small businesses won’t invest in skills, new jobs, training or equipment unless they have certainty”. Why would an SME increase investment in these parts of their business when they don’t know if they will have the cash to pay for them in the future? In this sense, uncertainty stifles innovation and growth, preventing small businesses from fulfilling their potential and damaging the wider business environment.

Supporting a stronger ecosystem

The idea that late payments only impact small businesses is patently false. Though we will look at how late payments also affect larger companies in greater depth in upcoming blog posts, we will touch on the subject here.

Large companies do not operate in isolation. They’re part of a diverse business ecosystem. Big businesses’ supply chains are made up of small businesses, and they depend on them to manufacture, market and distribute their products. While it may seem as though these larger organisations are insulated from the problems of small businesses – they can, after all, replace one SME partner with another – this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Big businesses need to protect their supply chain to insulate them from potential economic problems and to minimise the chance of disruption. When a partner SME goes out of business, it is disruptive. That disruption may be manageable when things are going well and financial forecasts are optimistic. When things aren’t looking quite as good and larger companies are facing other business pressures, that disruption can be highly problematic.

Liz Barclay spoke to us about her perspective on late payments and their impact on the wider business ecosystem. She warned larger businesses that late payments are creating problems and the effects will be felt in the future. “The next time that you need that talent that contributes so much to the success of your business, it’s not going to be there,” she said. “And then it’s going to cost you a lot more to go out and look for new suppliers who can do that job.”

In some respects, recent events made larger organisations realise the importance of a healthy ecosystem to their operations. “The pandemic made many big businesses realise that, if they didn’t nurture and look after their suppliers, they would go to their rivals or be put out of business,” Liz Barclay said. “Until we start getting that message to bigger businesses, they won’t see that they’re shooting themselves in the foot.”

Small business owners are struggling

For small and micro business owners, late payments aren’t just an operational issue. They dramatically impact how they live their lives and support themselves. Liz Barclay recounted a call the office of the Small Business Commissioner received from a business owner who was suffering because they were not paid on time.

“We had one woman who phoned to tell us that she had no money to feed her children over the weekend,” she described. “When the case officer then phoned the bigger company and spoke to the CFO, the CFO admitted that it had never occurred to them that £300 could be so important.”

In many instances, larger businesses are not maliciously denying payment to cause harm. They simply do not recognise that their payments can be the difference between a small business owner being able to put food on the table or not. In some ways, this is understandable. Big businesses deal with much larger sums, operate on a different scale, and in a more bureaucratic environment. In this environment, the human impact of business decisions and actions is less clear.

In the case of the business owner unable to feed her children due to late payment, making the larger organisation aware of the human cost of late payment resulted in action. “The company’s CFO asked the case officer for the small business owner’s personal bank account details, and they paid her directly there and then,” Liz Barclay recounted.

Tackling mental health concerns

The example cited in the previous section highlighted the financial cost of late payments to small business owners. This cost is considerable and clear to see. However, there are more insidious costs that are harder to measure but no less problematic. The most significant is the toll late payments take on small and micro business owners.

“Late payments aren’t a purely economic problem,” Liz Barclay noted. “For small businesses, micro-businesses, freelancers and sole traders, they can cause sleepless nights. And sleepless nights lead to mental health problems. We are increasingly seeing people with mental health problems because they’re being paid late or not being paid within reasonable terms.”

It is easy to forget that late payments can have deeply personal ramifications. On a personal level, employees at larger companies are largely insulated from the repercussions of everyday business processes. Their income is not dependent on the outcome and efficiency of key business processes. Whether or not there are problems, they typically still receive their monthly wage slip.

That’s not true of small business owners. Their personal lives are deeply entangled with their professional lives, and they face an entirely different set of workplace pressures. The uncertainty associated with late payments (discussed earlier in the article) puts tremendous pressure on business owners, which manifests as considerable stress. The emotional toll can be enormous.


As this article demonstrates, late payments significantly impact small businesses and their owners. While the most obvious effect is financial, with smaller companies struggling or going out of business, there are other underlying effects that we take for granted. Late payments prevent small businesses from investing in their organisation, reducing productivity and holding the economy back more generally.

At the same time, late payments have a real and very worrying impact on business owners’ mental health and ability to make ends meet. Cash flow uncertainty puts SMEs in a position where they’re operating on a knife edge and constantly worrying about the future. This is unsustainable, and burnout in small businesses is becoming a genuine concern. 

Of course, late payments also affect larger businesses, most notably by creating insecure supply chains that are open to disruption. However, large companies also benefit from making payments on time. We will examine those benefits in an upcoming blog post soon.

(August, 2022) In a recent podcast, The Small Business Commissioner, Liz Barclay, issued a warning that without confidence in cash flow, the UK’s small and micro businesses would be restricted from investing in new jobs, equipment and training or risk shutting shop.

During the conversation with Saltare CEO, Anthony Persse, Liz Barclay raised the issue of late payments hindering small and micro businesses, because often they’re forced to stretch funds if invoices are delayed or paid late. This has a knock-on effect in cutting budgets for new staff or research and development.

“If we look economically, small businesses are put at risk and can’t manage their cash flow if they don’t have payment certainty or know when payments will be made. This means they either have to stretch their funds or look elsewhere for funding, and this limits their investments not just in business growth but business-as-usual functions.”

Liz Barclay

In addition to the strain put on business owners’ books through late payments, Liz also raised the issue of the mental health challenges business owners face through not having sufficient cash.

Particular areas of focus for Liz are freelancers, sole traders and micro businesses. She believes these individuals and owners are most at risk of struggling with mental health challenges and sleepless nights, due to an unpaid invoice putting their livelihood at risk.

These issues also flow through into the local communities, when small and medium-sized businesses are impacted by late payments, something Saltare is committed to resolving through its Early Pay platform.

Anthony Persse, CEO of Saltare said:

“Chatting to Liz, really brings home how important it is for business leaders and policymakers in the UK to prioritise paying on time. Early payment and the certainty of payment ease cashflow concerns and improves the likelihood of future success and growth. Conversely, poor cashflow and poor payment practices ultimately leads to business failure and insolvency.”

Listen to the full interview between Anthony Persse and Liz Barclay below:

Early Pay is a unique payment solution that boosts your business, supports your suppliers, and transforms the entire economic landscape. Helping you to create a solid supply chain that is built on confidence and trust. Enabling you to become the customer of choice.

Our ground-breaking digital solution Early Pay, is a quick, and easy way to offer and facilitate early payments. You can provide peace of mind to your suppliers by delivering certainty of payments through automated communications, whilst giving them the option to get paid sooner – and in just 3 clicks.

Watch our short video to find out more.

What’s in it for you?

-A strong supply chain with improved business relationships

-Delivery of tangible social impact throughout your supply chain

-Financial benefits achieved through potential early payment
discounts. Plus operational efficiencies as a result of reduced
inbound invoice queries

-Access to new and valuable supply chain data and insights.

What’s in it for your Suppliers?

-Reduced anxiety as a result of certainty of payments

-Improved cashflow from early payment potential

-Reduced need to secure alternative funding to support
their business

-No more need to chase payments, freeing them up to
focus on customers, like you

Early Pay by Saltare

We improve the flow of cash to the entire supply chain in a way that works for everyone.

How does it work?

Its really smart and really simple…..

Once you’ve approved an invoice, Early Pay will notify your supplier. You can offer to pay early (and choose whether to apply a discount or not). Your supplier can accept the offer if they wish to, in just 3 clicks. There’s no obligation either way, but your suppliers will have the peace of mind of knowing exactly when they’ll be paid

We are happy to announce that we have partnered up with the Smart Manufacturing Alliance.

The Smart Manufacturing Alliance (SMA) is creating a world-class manufacturing cluster across Cambridgeshire & Peterborough. They are dedicated to helping manufacturers reach their full potential, harnessing the power of new technologies, and increasing opportunities for innovation and collaboration.

The SMA recently announced news of the partnership on their website:

The Smart Manufacturing Alliance will be helping manufacturers across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough take greater control of their cashflow through a new corporate partnership with payments specialist, Saltare. The partnership will also open up connections with the Office for the Small Business Commissioner thanks to Saltare’s close ties with the government’s fair payments body.

It is estimated that 82% of businesses fail not because of lack of profit, but through lack of cash. Yet, studies suggest UK SMEs are currently waiting on almost £200bn tied up in unpaid invoices.

Cashflow challenges could be hindering significant growth and investment in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough manufacturing. The Smart Manufacturing Alliance hopes that Saltare’s payment platforms will help businesses free up resources and invest more into innovation, job creation, and growth.

Saltare’s innovative digital products incentivise early payments and let both suppliers and customers know when invoices will be paid. This gives SMEs more certainty over their cashflow and strengthens relationships across the supply chain. All of this can be a lifeline to levelling up and supercharging growth.

Early Pay is one of Saltare’s latest tech-driven solutions that will improve the flow of cash to the entire supply chain. Early Pay gives buyers cash incentives to pay early and can integrate into enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. Once the buyer approves an invoice, Early Pay will notify the supplier and let them know when the invoice will be paid.

Saltare’s close ties to the Office of the Small Business Commissioner means Smart Manufacturing Alliance members can access additional content and advice around late payments. In time for the partnership launching, Alliance members can put their questions about fair payments to former Small Business Commissioner, Phillip King, via Saltare in an exclusive interview later this month.

Bob Hart, Programme Director at the Smart Manufacturing Alliance, said, “Giving our members quick and simple payment systems like Early Pay not only safeguards their cashflow, but could help them divert more resources into innovative projects, new tech and equipment, and create more opportunities for staff to develop their skillsets.

“We’re delighted to bring Saltare on board as a corporate partner for the Smart Manufacturing Alliance. There will be lots of advice to help our members secure payments on time, and keep their businesses running smoothly. The knock on effect along the supply chain will be a real boost for our local economy.”

Ant Persse, CEO of Saltare said, “We’re really pleased to be working with the Smart Manufacturing Alliance to support the sector. It’s our mission to change the mind-set of businesses once and for all, embracing a positive approach to payments to build stronger economies.

“Our tools bring the certainty of payment and cashflow to both ends of the supply chain. We’re excited to work even closer with manufacturers across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, supporting their business growth, and building a more resilient sector.”

To find out more about the benefits for members of the Smart Manufacturing Alliance, visit: www.sma-uk.co.uk/experts/saltare/

This article first appeared in LocalGov.

In the article, Anthony Persse FCICM discusses how ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) has become a major talking point on the agendas of private and public organisations, including local authorities. But what is ESG, and more importantly, how can local authorities, with the 100s of suppliers they interact with every day, use their procurement processes to deliver meaningful societal change?

ESG measures the sustainability of an organisation which, for local authorities, means its local community’s environmental, social and economic sustainability. Local authorities are working hard to reduce the impact of climate change and helping us all adopt greener and healthier living habits. They add social value through the services they provide, such as health and social care, and building local economies that support local residents. They also have a social responsibility to the local business community. They have a responsibility to cultivate good relationships with and between a diverse and inclusive range of local businesses, both large and small. Helping enterprises to succeed will in turn provide employment in the community over the longer term. And the local authorities’ governance ensures there are transparent processes and controls in place to deliver and demonstrate sound decision-making and value for money.

To provide the enormous range of products and services for which they are responsible, everything from highway maintenance to social care, local authorities employ a roster of suppliers. Last year they spent £64bn with third parties, £23.6bn (almost 40%) of which was spent with small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

SMEs are an essential part of our national and local economies and key to a thriving local community. They provide 60% of private-sector employment. Those employees stimulate a region’s economy and support the local authority by spending locally and reducing pollution and environmental impact by walking, cycling, or enjoying a shorter commute to work. SMEs are also highly committed to their local communities, using local suppliers, and supporting local charities. Despite all this, four-fifths of SMEs fail in the first year, and two-thirds in ten years.

SMEs are often sub-contracted by larger companies, many of whom are signatories to the Prompt Payment Code. Yet SMEs still wait on average 37 days, usually 60 days, and in some cases up to 120 days for payment, driving many into insolvency. Having survived the pandemic, they now face rising inflation and labour costs, coupled with the supply chain restrictions, which means they need more working capital to survive. It’s no surprise that the mental health of small business owners is now a concern.

So how can a local authority support its local small business community and deliver the ‘Social’ element of its ESG commitment? Perhaps the biggest impact anyone in the public sector can have in supporting local businesses is to pay those businesses on time. They can prevent businesses from failing and eliminate the stress of late payments by paying promptly or even early, creating a more vibrant local economy which is more sustainable and resilient. The CBI says instant payments could release £60bn in revenues for small businesses and stimulate 460,000 new jobs.

There are five steps a local authority can take to support its ESG agenda:

• Where possible actively choose to work with local suppliers that bring social value to their community by directly boosting local economies. Local SMEs often provide ESG value through their close community connections whilst also deliver both an equal quality of service and product.

• Explore new payment technologies to monitor payments. Digital systems provide oversight and governance for the authority and encourage larger sub-contractors of SMEs to pay on-time or early.

• Pay suppliers in 10 days or less and as part of the tendering process encourage large suppliers to do the same. Digital payment platforms are available that enable small suppliers to accept discounts for early payment. They also help SMEs focus on growing their business and their workforce rather than chasing late payments.

• Create supply chains which improve relationships between larger businesses and SMEs. Use digital payment technology platforms that enhance communications, help increase cash flow, and reduce the fear of losing future work by chasing payment too hard. Building sustainable long-term relationships will reduce business owners’ stress, improving their’s and ultimately their employee’s welfare.

• During the procurement process, encourage both large and smaller organisations to demonstrate a long-term commitment to the sustainability of the region. Smaller companies are more innovative and adapt more quickly to changes in sustainability targets. They can improve production and process efficiency and reduce their environmental footprint faster than larger firms. Large and small companies working together are likely to achieve far more social value than working alone.

If local authorities take these five steps, there are advantages for everyone: they will protect the health and welfare of local business owners and their employees; larger companies will be able to demonstrate greater social value through cooperation; and local authorities will be able to show they are delivering their ESG commitments for the environment, social good and governance.

Watch our short explainer video on how Early Pay works and how it can benefit your business.

Looking after your valuable supply chain is critical to everyone’s success. We can help you create a solid supply chain that is built on confidence and trust and enables you to become the customer of choice.

Early Pay is a quick and easy way to offer and facilitate early payments. You can provide peace of mind to your suppliers by delivering certainty of payments, whilst giving them the option to get paid sooner and in just three clicks!

Transform the way you pay and get in touch to arrange a demo today. And see just how early pay will deliver benefit to your business and your supply chain.