The need for Northern Ireland's banks to provide lending to businesses at affordable rates was hammered home to bankers by Finance Minister Sammy Wilson.
“Ensuring that our local businesses and consumers have access to finance at reasonable terms will be important in terms of ending the recession and stimulating growth,” he told the province's ‘Big Four' banks.
Mr Wilson set out his position at a meeting with bankers yesterday at the first gathering of the Executive's Cross Sector Advisory Forum's Finance and Lending sub group. The group aims to make recommendations addressing the problems arising from the economic crisis.
The minister said there was no doubt the banking sector had a crucial role to play in helping Northern Ireland's businesses in the difficult economic climate.
A confident local financial sector was a prerequisite for a return to economic growth and prosperity, he added.
Banks both locally and nationally are being constantly criticised by business over the rates of interest they are charging for lending.
Mr Wilson said: “As we move forward, I believe it is important that lending at affordable rates to our local businesses and consumers is available.”
Pressing home the message he added: “We must remember that improving liquidity in the economy was a key factor in the UK Government's decision to invest billions in sustaining the banking industry.”
The outlook for the Northern Ireland economy was one of slow
recovery and there were still difficult times ahead, said Mr Wilson.
As well as business lending — including take up of the UK Government and European Investment Bank schemes — and the housing market, the meeting agenda covered a whole gamut of issues including lending to the community and social sector and the Irish Government's proposed National Asset Management
Agency. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) Northern Ireland welcomed the minister's commitment to the roll-out of the Executive's Investment Strategy.
But director Ben Collins said: “There is significant concern in the industry that the level of investment being announced is not consistent with the experiences of firms on the ground.
“We would encourage the minister and his department to ensure that the recently introduced delivery tracking system portal, which is intended to provide ‘visibility of opportunity' with regard to the Investment Strategy, is operating effectively.”
The system was a step in the right direction, he said, but added: “Firms are reporting that it is not providing the level or expediency of information required.”