Banks failed to increase lending to small businesses in the first three months of 2010, despite political pressure to free up the credit markets.
The Bank of England’s latest credit conditions survey found that credit made available to small business in the first quarter of the year was «little changed» from the previous quarter – but had improved for larger companies.
Lenders said the demand for credit from small business increased more than expected in the last three months, and forecast it would increase further in the next quarter, as many businesses look to refinance existing loans and fund increasing takeover activity.
Vicky Redwood, UK economist at Capital Economics, said the survey «did little to alter our view that a prolonged period of sluggish lending growth lies ahead».
She said: «The targets do not look that ambitious, while the failure of the banks to meet their previous targets without any obvious repercussions means they have little incentive to meet these new ones.»
Liberal Democrat shadow chancellor Vince Cable said: «Business is being strangled by a lack of credit. For all the chancellor’s tough talk about making banks lend, this is further proof that the government is failing to ensure good British businesses get the money they need.
«Unless businesses can get the credit they need to create jobs and growth, there will be no recovery. The government must take a firm hand with the banks we own to ensure that they are lending to British businesses and supporting our economy.»
The chancellor, Alistair Darling, announced a number of measures to help small businesses in the budget. One was that the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group would pledge £94bn in loans for businesses in the coming year, with nearly half going to smaller firms.
He also announced the creation of a small business credit adjudicator with statutory powers to ensure small businesses are treated fairly when applying for loans. Lord Sugar will front the campaign.
Business Secretary Lord Mandelson said: «These worrying figures show the real pressure being put on viable companies struggling to access bank finance. Small businesses are the key to the economic recovery.»
However, there is a perception among small business owners that banks are unfairly denying them credit. This task force will help us understand the root of these concerns.»
Cable branded the appointment a «silly stunt». He said: «With this appointment, the government is showing the same contempt for small business people as Lord Sugar shows them when they complain about the banks.
«Instead of this silly stunt, the government should be making the banks lend business what they promised to last year. They must take a firm hand with the banks which we own to ensure that they are lending to British businesses and supporting our economy. Unless businesses can get the credit they need to create jobs and growth, there will be no recovery.»