March 22, 2013 11:07 pm

Labour plans small business agency

A “small business agency” would be set up in Whitehall under a Labour government to deal directly with small companies, Chuka Umunna has promised.

The shadow business secretary said the group would be based on the US “small business administration” and would “drive the small business agenda”.

Labour is stepping up its attempts to woo the business world before the 2015 general election, having admitted a glaring lack of corporate support ahead of the 2010 contest.

Mr Umunna, who is seen as a rising star of the party, said he would also consider “automatic sanctions” for late payers to small businesses.

“Too many small businesses are effectively bankrolling bigger businesses that refuse to pay them on time. This is outrageous,” he said in a speech to the Federation of Small Businesses on Friday.

The last Labour government had legislated to ensure that late payments could incur interest, he said.

But he would want to go even further: “The next Labour government will expose those who pay late and we will seek to put in place a regime that will automatically trigger action against late payers, perhaps by preventing them winning public contracts and through reporting requirements on payment performance in their company accounts.”

Other policies under consideration by Labour include a rollout of more peer-to-peer financing alongside local authorities to help small companies.

Mr Umunna said he wanted to introduce a US-style “small business Saturday” and ban big energy companies from rolling small businesses on to more expensive tariffs without consent.

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