Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

13 ways to boost business funds thanks to new report

Government, banks and businesses in Northern Ireland all have a part to play in boosting access to finance here, according to a wide ranging report commissioned by the Enterprise Minister.

The Economic Advisory Group (EAG) report has put forward 13 recommendations it believes will get funding flowing to businesses.

They include involving the Executive in implementing Government lending schemes, upskilling bank staff and showing how to appeal against lending decisions.

And business organisations have a part to play with a call for them and accountancy bodies to organise seminars to advise businesses on how to manage finances through difficult economic times.

To ensure the report isn't left to gather dust, the EAG wants an independent implementation panel appointed to make sure its recommendations are acted upon.

Chair of the EAG Kate Barker, who is a former member of the Bank of England's interest rate-setting Monetary Policy Committee, said finance conditions can be improved.

"We believe, if implemented appropriately, these will improve the finance environment for SME businesses now and when firms start to plan for an economic upturn," she said.

While much blame for the bottleneck in the credit system has been laid at banks, the report said the issues are more complicated with dwindling appetite to take on more debt also a major contributor

"There is clearly a significant degree of frustration within the local business community over what is perceived by many businesses to be an unwillingness of banks to lend, or to lend at reasonable rates.

"However, the EAG research shows that the market for finance is complex and that issues exist on both the demand and supply side," she said.

It found demand for bank finance from small and medium-sized enterprises was relatively low at 8% while bank loan application approval rates stand at 66%, in line with the rest of the UK and the Republic. It was unable to tie down details on the supply of bank finance but said there is strong evidence that it has reduced sharply.

Ms Barker added: "Clearly both businesses and banks are having to adapt to a new lending environment and this is causing significant challenges locally and nationally. However, more can be done to improve the situation and our recommendations are focused on achieving this aim."

The report is to be discussed by the Executive economy sub-committee on Tuesday.

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