3. What his policy is on the non-release or late release of cash retentions in the construction industry. (900018)
Unjustified late and non-payment of a retention payment or any amount owed is unacceptable. These practices cause particular problems for small businesses in the construction sector, and the Government are committed to tackling them. We will shortly be publishing research into these issues, alongside a consultation document.
The system of cash retentions has been wreaking havoc in the construction industry for decades. Can the Minister assure us that there will soon be radical action to overhaul the system, and can she explain why it has taken so long?
There is, indeed, far too much abuse of the system of cash retention, and it has been going on for too long. The burden of administrative time spent securing payments and the drain on working capital weigh far too heavily on smaller firms in the supply chain, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will be taking action.
If the Government had only listened in 2015 to the amendments the Labour party tabled to the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill, we would already have a solution. We were told then that the Government were going to take action. We were told again a few months ago that they were taking action with their proposals about naming and shaming businesses that did not publish their late payments. We now have yet another consultation. Research from Crossflow Payments shows that 74% of small businesses do not believe that the Government’s recent changes will make any difference. Can we have a policy that actually enforces action on late payments, rather than the series of consultations that we have had?
I agree that action is needed, but it is important that we take the right action. We have undertaken a consultation, the results of which will be published shortly. That will be followed by a consultation on the 2011 changes to the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996, which will consider the merits of ring-fencing retentions and the extent to which contractors are making the payment of retentions conditional on the performance of obligations under other, completely separate contracts.