Government gets banks to pledge £76bn in lending to SMEs

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Government gets banks to pledge £76bn in lending to SMEs

Simon Quicke

It took longer than planned but the government has finally unveiled the terms of its agreement with the banks to get lending to small businesses flowing again.

The outcome of Project Merlin had been expected last month but was stalled as the terms of the agreement couldn't be reached. But today the chancellor George Osborne revealed that the banks had signed up to provide £190bn in lending to businesses this year with £76bn going to SMEs.

The Bank of England is going to monitor the lending levels from those banks, HSBC, Barclays, RBS, Santander and Lloyds Banking Group, that have signed up to project Merlin.

At the same time the government has outlined plans for a £200bn fund, dubbed the Big Society Bank, to provide support for community projects.

Lending to small businesses has been a constant headache throughout the credit crunch as banks have resisted calls for them to return loans to pre-recessionary levels.

John Walker, National Chairman, Federation of Small Businesses, said that the lending was welcome but the efforts to unlock the coffers shouldn't stop there.

"Today's announcement should not be allowed to let the Government or the banks off the hook, and is a preamble to what we hope will be bigger announcements from the Independent Banking Commission. While we welcome the intention to lend more to small businesses, we still need to see a major restructure of the sector," he said. 

"Many small firms aren't going to the banks to access finance and credit and the main problem they face is the cost of credit.  Many small businesses have lost faith in the sector and are looking at other means of finance - and it is the smallest of firms that need finance most," he added.

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