Companies asked to come clean

Small and medium-sized enterprises are being encouraged to come clean about price fixing, market sharing, bid rigging and other forms of cartel by the Office of Fair Trading.

Involvement in such activities is punishable with fines of up to 10 per cent of turnover or a prison sentence. Throughout November, however, the OFT is offering SMEs involved in cartel practices the opportunity to blow the whistle and receive partial or even total immunity from fines.

A quarter of SMEs feel that they have been victims of anti-competitive practices and a third are aware of such practices in their industry, according to research by NOP World, on behalf of the OFT.

Businesses that want to report suspicions about cartel activity or who want advice about cartels can call the OFT’s hotline on 020 7211 8888.

Formal applications for leniency can be made by calling 020 7211 8117.

Succession threat to small firms

About 30 per cent of the 17,000 companies that are wound up each year fail because their owners do not make adequate succession plans, according to the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.

Only 15 per cent of family businesses survive to the third generation, reflecting the large proportion of companies being run on a so-called “lifestyle” basis instead of with a view to handing the organisation to future generations, according to ACCA.

Succession planning accounts for about 20 per cent of the total fee income for medium-sized accountancy but ACCA said too many companies are reluctant to consider succession planning issues.

Robin Jarvis, head of small business at ACCA, said: “The decision whether to sell a business or pass on ownership to the next generation should be considered as soon as possible and accountants can help.”

Advice about bounced cheques

A web poll by the Better Payment Practice Group found that more than half of respondents had suffered a bounced cheque in the last year.

As a result, the business group has created an advice section on its website to help companies that issue and receive cheques.

Stewart Dickey, the BPPG member representing the British Bankers Association, said companies can protect cash flow by credit checking customers before accepting cheques or by encouraging other methods of payment, such as electronic bank transfers.

Cheque volumes have been decreasing since hitting a peak in 1990 and are expected to continue to fall from a level of 2.8bn in 1999 to about 1.7bn by

Mr Dickey said: “Although cheque usage has declined in recent years as businesses have made increasing use of electronic payments and cards, it still remains a very important payment method.”

Further information on
Jonathan Moules

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