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Labour vows to protect small firms from late payments and anti-social behaviour

Labour has set out measures aimed at protecting small businesses from late payments and anti-social behaviour on the high street as it continues to pitch itself as the party of law and order.

Toughened legislation aiming to ensure invoices are paid on time would be introduced if the party wins the next general election, Jonathan Reynolds has said.

The shadow business secretary also renewed a pledge to roll out new “town centre police patrols” to “revitalise” Britain’s high streets as he delivered a speech to the Essex Chambers of Commerce on Wednesday.

Mr Reynolds set out the party’s “plan for small business”, which includes previously announced measures to scrap business rates and “unlock” the supply of patient capital for technology-intensive businesses.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced a crackdown on the “scourge” of late payments in his autumn statement last week, including plans to force companies bidding for large Government contracts to demonstrate they pay invoices within an average of 55 days.

Mr Reynolds said Labour’s approach would go “further” and “faster” by requiring all big firms, not just Government contractors, to report on their payment practices.

The party would also introduce a “guarantee” that at least one SME (small to medium-sized enterprise) is shortlisted for every appropriate Government contract, he said.

Speaking at the first of a series of “small business roadshows” to be held across the country, the shadow minister promised “stability and certainty” would be at the heart of Labour’s approach, drawing a contrast with recent months of political turmoil under the current Government.

“Aside from the four business secretaries we have had while I have shadowed this role, we have had 23 changes to corporation tax or five different consultations on late payments this Parliament,” he said.

“We’ve seen a push to go green, with all the investments that follow that and then just a few months ago the Prime Minister decided to cull targets, putting those investments at risk. The reality is this uncertainty has made it harder to do business.

“How can business plan when regulations constantly chop and change, when you don’t know what paperwork you will need to export, or when you have no confidence in what tax environment you will be looking at in two years’ time?

“Many of you have told me it’s not having to deal with a change of Government policy from election to election that is causing the anxiety. It’s the change in Government policy month to month that’s hurting you. Labour will put a stop to that.”

Mr Reynolds also reiterated pledges to scrap business rates with a “longer vision” for “full-scale reform” of the system and to make “shoppers and shop workers feel safe again with dedicated police patrols in every town centre”.

Labour said the plan was drawn up from conversations with small companies about the biggest challenges they would like to see addressed as the party seeks to burnish its pro-business credentials.

Both main parties have ramped up commitments on law and order in recent months ahead of a likely general election next year.

Labour has repeatedly promised to boost town-centre policing, with Sir Keir Starmer echoing New Labour prime minister Sir Tony Blair’s “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” rhetoric from the 1990s.

Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak put a series of criminal justice proposals at the heart of the King’s Speech, with senior Tories believing a focus on “bread and butter” Conservative issues will help as he seeks to overturn Labour’s opinion poll lead.