Belfast Telegraph

Cash-strapped SMEs in dark over new Invest NI loan fund

By Margaret Canning

Cash-strapped businesses will have to wait to hear whether they are eligible to borrow money from a new fund backed by Invest NI.

The agency said it couldn't give any more detail about the small business fund which was announced by its chief executive earlier this week.

In an interview with the BBC on Monday, Alastair Hamilton said a £50m fund, a mixture of private and public money, could start operating in around three months' time.

He was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Invest NI said the fund was part of a package of "proposals" for helping small businesses under the 'boosting business' banner.

A spokeswoman said: "At this time, it is inappropriate for Invest NI to disclose further details on the proposed loan fund until all approvals are in place."

She added she was unable to answer a range of questions about the proposed fund, including the type of sectors, if any, it will target, and how a firm can qualify for the fund.

Mr Hamilton had confirmed that the fund would require authorisation by the Financial Services Authority (FSA), which regulates banks and lending.

An FSA spokeswoman yesterday said its policy was to neither confirm nor deny any applications for approval.

One small business owner said he welcomed news of a possible fund: "I think it's a great idea because the banks aren't lending - and somebody's got to lend if there is to be any growth in the economy."

It's understood the fund will not be up and running by the end of next year because of the length of time it will take to tender for the management of the fund.

The business owner added: "Goodness knows what state the economy would be in by then."

The Invest NI spokeswoman added: "The proposed funding is not typically supplied to the small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector by the banks.

"It will however complement secured bank lending and venture capital (VC) funding to the sector.

"The fund will be managed on a fully commercial basis by an FSA-approved fund manager and at arm's length."