Pity the inept Department of Trade and Industry whose role seems to be to preach at business UK, but not to take any notice of its own considered advice. A sheepish Patricia Hewitt recently had to admit in a House of Commons written answer that the ragbag department crusading to fight late payment in UK plc can’t even settle its own bills on time. In its own survey of payment by government departments, the rambling DTI trailed at the league bottom at number 51 out of 57 government departments. With seven per cent of bills settled late, the DTI only beat the likes of the derided Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food, and the Royal Mint. ‘Late payment is a serious problem, particularly for small businesses’, Hewitt sagely states. ‘Not knowing when customers’ bills will be paid means uncertain cashflow, increased borrowings, higher costs and reduced profits.’ Nicholas Ridley over a decade ago is reputed to have asked officials when he strode in to the Department of Trade and Industry as secretary of state for the first time, ‘what is this department for?’. With 10,000 employees under present trade and industry secretary Stephen Byers, one would have thought the initiative-enthusiastic department would at least lead from the front. But, perhaps, that is asking too much from civil servants.
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