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SMEs benefit as bank lending begins to rise

BANK lending to small and medium-sized businesses in the UK rose in June for the first time since February on a net basis, which takes into account repayments, official figures show.

The Bank of England figures, published yesterday, show a net rise of £235 million in lending to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in June. However, they also reveal a £3.45 billion net fall in overall bank lending to non-financial businesses in the UK.

The net rise in lending to SMEs was the biggest monthly advance for a year, matching a £235 million increase on this basis in June 2013.

Howard Archer, chief UK economist at consultancy IHS Global Insight, noted these rises were the joint-sharpest monthly net increases in lending to SMEs since comparable data began in May 2011. Lending to SMEs, on a net basis, fell by £1.08 billion, £615 million and £139 million respectively in March, April and May.

Asked for his view of the Bank of England figures, Colin Borland, head of external affairs for the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland, said: "The latest figures from our members are from round about the end of June. They showed things are getting better if you compare the year-on-year figures but, quarter on quarter, they were pretty flat.

"Things are going in the right direction, albeit from a low base."

Asked what type of businesses were still struggling to secure loans, Mr Borland cited difficulties for those dependent on discretionary consumer spending, including some operating in the tourism sector.

He said: "It is difficult to generalise. However, businesses which tend to rely on discretionary consumer spending and for whom fixed assets and buildings tend to be a higher fixed cost find it particularly difficult."

Mr Borland added: "A good, topical example of that would be tourism. We know that members are feeding back there are particular issues in tourism businesses. That comes with the caveat that I would be cautious about generalising too much. Some guys are doing great. Others are not."

The net fall in overall bank lending to non-financial businesses followed an increase of £2.32 billion, net of repayments, in May.

Mr Archer said: "On the face of it, the renewed, sharp fall in net lending to businesses in June looks both disappointing and worrying, as it is vitally important for sustained, balanced UK growth that all companies who are in decent shape and who do want to borrow - whether it be to lift investment, explore new markets or generally support their operations - can do so, and at a non-punishing interest rate. This applies to all companies, whatever their size."

He noted the net fall in lending masked some improving trends. And he viewed the net rise in lending to SMEs as encouraging.

Mr Archer noted it had been reported by the Bank of England's regional agents in their July report that net lending growth had continued to be adversely affected by the unwinding of legacy positions by some banks.

He added: "Encouragingly, the agents reported that gross lending had strengthened, especially to some higher-risk small and medium-sized enterprises, and there was now more appetite to lend against smaller-scale commercial property collateral."

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