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Award Winner 2019: Trade Body Campaign of the Year

Federation of Small Businesses (FSB): ‘Fair Pay, Fair Play - Everyone deserves to be paid on time’

The 2019 PRCA Public Affairs Awards celebrated the best work of the year and below is the category's winning entry.

The Federation of Small Businesses is the UK’s largest business group with 165,000 members – small business owners/the self-employed. Our primary 2019 campaign has been to tackle the scourge of late payments. We developed the campaign in 3 steps:

  1. Identifying a window of opportunity for change, and a strategic choice to prioritise over all other campaign activity

  2. A campaign plan underpinned by unquestionable evidence-based policy work, and an elegant policy solution

  3. Targeted high-level engagement supported by cross-party political, media, online and member campaigning

Identifying a window of opportunity for change, and a strategic choice to prioritise over all other campaign activity

FSB lobbies on issues that affect small businesses, chosen due to 1) strength of feeling among members, and 2) political achievability of creating change. The problem of late payments to small business has stubbornly persisted, but Carillion’s collapse in 2018 later provided the opportunity for reform. Despite being paid by Government within five days, we discovered Carillion was squeezing suppliers by extending payment terms to 126 days – 4 months. They used being a signatory to the weak voluntary Prompt Payment Code, as cover.

From Party Conference season 2018, we made Late Payments ‘FSB’s No.1 issue’. This was both a strategy and a comms message to stakeholders. All firepower would be focused on this campaign, above all others.

A campaign plan underpinned by unquestionable evidence-based policy work, and an elegant policy solution

We published research revealing:

  • 80% of small businesses were paid late
  • Average delayed invoice was £6,142, for 6 weeks beyond terms
  • The worst culprits were large firms
  • The problem was worsening - damaging productivity, costing £2.5bn in lost GDP, closing 50,000 businesses each year

We proposed an elegant, radical 3-point reform package:

  • Make every large company Audit Committee accountable for its payment practices, and reporting in the Annual Report. This shifts the issue from the Finance Director to whole-Board ownership
  • Reform the Prompt Payment Code and bring into Government under the Small Business Commissioner
  • Stop late payers (future Carillions) from winning public contracts if they don’t pay 95% of invoices in 60 days

Targeted high-level engagement supported by cross-party political, media, online and member campaigning

Our aim was to secure the above in a reform package in Spring and Summer 2019. We made late payments our no.1 issue and used our research in all meetings and calls with the Prime Minister; Chancellor of the Exchequer; Business Secretary, officials and SpAds. We focused on the Chancellor’s team, as most people lobbied him to cut a tax or spend more £. Instead, our no.1 proposal would not cost public £, instead showing leadership of the UK economy. The Chancellor agreed, launching a call to evidence “to tackle the scourge of late payments” which the Prime Minister highlighted in a video to our members.

Our multi-channel ‘Fair Pay, Fair Play - Everyone deserves to be paid on time’ campaign spanned press, broadcast and digital, with members and MPs front and centre. We launched a campaign-branded ‘hub’ on our website, as an easy way to understand the problem and our solutions. We produced professional videos with members saying why they backed the campaign across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. On Twitter, we secured 200,000 impressions (10x our daily 23,000 average). On Facebook we reached over 10,000 people, with 400 post engagements and 6,000 views of two launch videos. On Instagram, our launch video reached over 5,000 people. Over 150 members from across the UK posted #fairpayfairplay videos of support that we shared.

55 prominent cross-party MPs backed our campaign with photographs in constituencies with local FSBs or at a Parliamentary drop-in - Esther McVey, Robin Walker, Jess Phillips, Debbie Abrahams, Caroline Lucas, Arlene Foster and Small Business Commissioner Paul Uppal. We went to Strasbourg to create a global alliance against late payments, with 34 MEPs and the European Parliament President tweeting support. Commission officials worked with us on a late payments review, publishing a report suggesting our proposals for member states.

We used our role in the ‘B5’ (the five main UK business groups – FSB, CBI, IoD, BCC, MakeUK) to seek specific help from the others, while also safeguarding our leadership space.

We achieved 76 pieces of national press coverage, reaching 3.3 million, including multiple pieces in the Times, Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, and a placed joint opinion piece with CBI’s Carolyn Fairburn in the Times’ Red Box. Spokespeople featured on BBC Breakfast, ITV news, Sky, Today Programme, PM, You&Yours, a MoneyBox Live late payments special, and regional TV/radio. Our stats (the 50,000 businesses per year that could be saved, and £2.5bn GDP loss) were cited across the media.


  • 13 March 2019 - the Chancellor’s Spring Statement Commons Speech announced our Audit Committee recommendation as the first step to a late package reform package. He congratulated “FSB in particular on its tireless campaign on the issue.”
  • 19 June 2019 - BEIS press released the full reform package with an FSB quote, confirming our Audit Committee recommendation and our second reform - of the Prompt Payment Code. She offered “great thanks to the Federation of Small Businesses and its Fair Pay campaign, which has campaigned so hard for movement from Government”.
  • 23 May 2019 - the Chancellor gave the keynote address at FSB’s UK Awards final, focusing on late payments and how proud he was to have worked with us.
  • 18 July 2019 - the Chancellor hosted an FSB roundtable of members at No.11 Downing Street to cement the reforms.
  • 1 September 2019 - under the new Government, No.10 worked with us as the Cabinet Office announced it would implement our third reform. Every strategic supplier to Govt must pay 95% of invoices in 60 days or be struck off winning public contracts.

The campaign illustrates why FSB was created in 1974, by small businesses who needed a voice to win policy change.