Bakers are being urged to sign up to an online petition calling for an end to late payments. If enough people sign up, it is hoped the government will introduce industry standard contractual payment terms, ensuring that all companies pay suppliers within 28 days.

Graham McQuade, new business development manager at The Kerfoot Group, which supplies oils and fats to the baking industry, started the petition after becoming frustrated that small and medium-sized businesses were being hit by larger companies’ reluctance to pay on time; some insist on terms of up to three months when the supplier would have had to pay for their goods in 28 days or sooner.

He said: "I’ve seen a number of bakery companies go to the wall, partly because payment terms were being squeezed. It has become harder for companies to get an extension on their overdraft, which means they cannot grow their business."

The Federation of Small Businesses has already called for firms that fail to pay their suppliers on time to be ’named, shamed and fined’ by the government. Its latest survey shows that more than one-third of small firms are taking longer to get paid.

McQuade said the big supermarkets were particularly guilty of holding on to suppliers’ money and admitted that some bakeries might normally be reluctant to speak out for fear of being delisted. But an online petition enables staff to express their feelings, without naming their company.

At least 200 signatures should guarantee that the petition is considered by government, but 1,000 signatures would have more chance of influencing law.

Bakers have until 26 August to sign at: