THE supply of credit to businesses has increased according to official research, which suggests big firms have enjoyed much of the benefit.

While the Bank of England found the availablility of credit increased significantly in the fourth quarter of 2013, the Federation of Small Businesses said affordable funding remained in short supply in Scotland in the period.

The findings of the latest Credit Conditions Survey by the Bank of England point to an improvement in funding markets following repeated official attempts to help kick start lending to businesses and house buyers.

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The bank found demand for mortgage lending reached a six-year high in the last three months of 2013. It said lenders reported increased availability for small businesses and large non-financial firms in the quarter.

The proportion of loan applications from small businesses they approved rose for the fourth consecutive quarter.

The survey findings may boost hopes the official Funding for Lending scheme has made banks more willing to lend to businesses.

However, Colin Borland, head of external affairs for the FSB in Scotland, said such schemes may have been most effective at channelling more money at lower rates to 'dead certs' who would have got it anyway.

He added: "Almost three quarters of small firms still say credit availability is poor."

Mr Borland said the FSB's research suggested credit conditions were improving in Scotland, but from a low base. Some 42% of small businesses reported credit was unaffordable at the end of 2013.

The Bank of England found the interest rate margin or spread on lending to big firms fell "significantly" in the fourth quarter but only slightly for small businesses.

Lenders reported significant falls in the fees and commissions they charged big firms and an increase in credit lines.

Maximum credit lines increased a little for small businesses but other non-price terms were unchanged, with no changes expected in the current quarter.

There was little change in lending to medium sized firms but their funding costs fell sharply.

Demand for credit from small businesses was unchanged in the three months to December but is expected to increase significantly in the current quarter.

The FSB hopes changes made to the Funding for Lending scheme to focus more resources on small firms will be effective.

But Mr Borland said the big high street banks needed to compete harder for small firms' business, while ministers should promote alternative funding options.