You’ve been Serco-ed…..

Ha Ha Ha. I have to admit to being extremely amused by the recent Serco fiasco. Having told the Government that, yes of course it would work with them to cut costs, their FD, Andrew Jenner, then turned around to their suppliers and told them that, er they were going to be the people to be providing those cost cuts. Job done or so they thought.

However they reckoned without a robust government response to their shameless bullying of suppliers. Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude intervened and the public services provider was forced to issue an unreserved apology. To cap it all the share price tanked as a result. No less than they deserved you might think and you would be right. Definitely something to cheer people up on a Monday morning.

But there is a serious side to all of this. To a certain extent big corporate Britain has been let off lightly so far. Profits are recovering, due to cost cutting it has to be said, rather than imaginative revenue growth. Balance sheets which weren’t that stretched anyway are being strengthened by a hungry bond market providing cheap money. As a result executive pay packets are soaring.

Yet, as the Serco episode above shows, they are still squeezing their suppliers, not only in terms of asking for retrospective “rebates”, but also extending payment terms by up to 90 days. This takes its toll on already cash strapped SME businesses, and is doing as much damage to their chances of survival as the current lack of available finance.

As Part Time FDs we see this frequently when working with our SME clients. If these businesses were able to just claw back a month’s worth of working capital, the cash injection into the SME sector would surely be significantly more than the government and banks have been able to manage so far.

Big corporates more than ever have their part to play in Britain’s recovery, particularly in light of the austerity measures that the government is having to put in place to reduce its debt. A 30 day reduction in the working capital cycle will do more for enterprise Britain that any amounts of Government exhortations on banks to lend. Come on corporate Britain, it is now time for you to do your bit….

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