LATE payments remain a big problem for many small firms in spite of the improvement in the economy, research shows.

Almost a quarter, 23% of respondents to a survey by the Forum of Private Business reported an increase in late payment over the past year.

Phil Orford, chief executive of the forum, said the Government must tackle the problem.

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He noted: "Upwards of £30 billion remains tied up in late payments, costing a typical small business 130 hours a year and a third are forced to seek external finance to cover the gaps."