Belfast Telegraph

Ministers demanding that banks reveal scale of lending

By Noel McAdam

Executive ministers are turning up the heat on local banks by demanding details of local lending trends from the Bank of England, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson (below) has written to the bank's Governor, Sir Mervyn King, to request regional lending statistics.

And he has also been in contact with Chancellor George Osborne in an attempt to ensure initiatives to ease the credit crunch are effective in Northern Ireland.

The twin approach comes after the DUP minister's face-to-face meeting with Sir Mervyn last November which has since been followed up by Department of Finance officials.

The London meeting was arranged to discuss the particular issues faced by the Northern Ireland banking sector, Mr Wilson said, including future regulatory requirements, and the operation of current and forthcoming financial initiatives to improve liquidity in the financial system.

In particular, he asked Sir Mervyn to consider what mechanisms might be put in place "to ensure the benefits of these initiatives are felt here in Northern Ireland".

A spokeswoman for the department added: "The minister has also raised this issue with the Chancellor and discussions at official level are ongoing."

Mr Wilson's officials said he wanted to leave the details of the credit easing to Sir Mervyn.

"It is his responsibility that Bank of England initiatives that are intended to operate throughout the United Kingdom are effective in all regions.

"For example, it was noted at the meeting by the finance minister that the Project Merlin initiative had only UK-wide lending targets for SMEs and no regional targets," a further statement said.

"Following the meeting, the finance minister has written to the Bank of England to ask for regional lending statistics to be compiled and to the Chancellor to ask him to ensure that the credit easing initiative is also effective in Northern Ireland."

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who has also met local banking chiefs, is among ministers who have been critical of the banking sector's reluctance to lend. They also include Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster, who told the Assembly this week that "small and medium-sized businesses are being continually pressed in relation to access to finance and banks".

"Some of the banks are bearing down very heavily on some of our companies," she added.

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