The Bank of England now publishes monthly estimates for lending by UK banks to small and medium-sized companies. Those figures show for the 24 months up to May 2013 an increase in net lending in two months and a decrease in the others. The Government are working to increase the lending available to SMEs through the new business bank and, with the Bank of England, through the funding for lending scheme.
The funding for lending scheme primarily benefits mortgage lending, but changes were made in April to make it accessible to asset-based finance, for example. Several of the new challenger banks are now taking advantage of it, and it is beginning to make an impact on SME lending.
I visited the bank recently and was told that all people who come to it are given a fair hearing and that small business men are getting the loans they need. Is it not the case that what got the banks into this mess was irresponsible and over-optimistic lending and that what we need now is prudent and responsible lending to small businesses?
Of course, we need prudent, responsible lending, but I subscribe to the view, which I hear frequently around the country, that many SMEs find it difficult to access finance from the banks and that we cannot just let the situation remain as it is. That is why we are in the process of establishing the business bank, which is currently marketing £300 million. There is substantial interest in investing in that project.
In the last period of time, it has been quite understandable that there have been problems with getting loans from banks, but another problem has been with small and medium-sized businesses being paid in time. It has been suggested that some £30 billion is outstanding in payments from big business to small business. What steps are being taken by the Secretary of State to help small business get moneys paid on time by big business?
My colleague the Minister of State has launched an initiative to ensure rapid settlement, particularly down the supply chain. We name the big companies that do not settle their debts properly in that way. We also have a programme of supply chain financing, the advanced manufacturing supply chain initiative, which will help the settlements to which the hon. Gentleman refers.
Two years ago, there was a crisis in small business lending. We have just heard from the Secretary of State that in 22 of those 24 months, it has got worse. The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales is the latest to acknowledge that the Government response to the SME funding crisis is totally inadequate, using a British investment bank that funnels existing inadequate schemes through our uncompetitive banking system. Is it not time that the Secretary of State admitted that the Government will never deliver the scale of change needed and threw his weight behind Labour’s plan for a new generation of local banks with local decision making, based on the key features of the German Sparkasse model? Let us get the real change that British small businesses desperately need.
I am a great fan of the German Sparkasse system, and it is a pity that we never had it in Britain. If the hon. Gentleman looks back on the record of the previous Labour Government, he will recall that in 2000, they had a report prepared for them on the inadequacies of British business lending and the enormous problems created by the fact that four banks accounted for all the business. The Government of the day, despite urging from myself and others, did absolutely nothing about the problem. As a result, we went into the banking crisis with massively over-concentrated ownership and damaged banks that are no longer able to perform properly. We are seeking reform, supporting new challenger banks though the business bank, and dealing with a problem that should have been dealt with a decade ago.