Political uncertainty is blamed for drop in loans for small firms
Banks have cut their lending to Northern Irish SMEs by around 11% in a year, amid claims Northern Ireland's political stalemate could be starting to hit businesses.
Figures from finance provider Ortus Secured Finance claim new loans to Northern Ireland small firms fell from £1.7bn to £1.5bn in just 12 months.
It's thought that ongoing political uncertainty may be behind the lending slump.
Ortus said Northern Ireland SMEs in the manufacturing sector have been among those to see the most dramatic falls in new loans granted.
The value of manufacturing loans here fell by almost a third in the six months between October 2016 and March 2017, to £351m - down from £514m in the previous six-month period.
The figures compare to a 1.5% decrease in the value of new loans secured by Welsh SMEs over the same period.
Scottish SMEs, meanwhile, saw a decrease of 9.5%, as the Scottish economy continues to suffer from the slump in North Sea oil.
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Jon Salisbury, managing director of Ortus Secured Finance, said ongoing political uncertainty in Northern Ireland may be leading to heightened caution among traditional lenders.
"SMEs in Northern Ireland are likely victims of an excessively cautious approach from traditional lenders.
"Whilst traditional lenders may be wary of investing in Northern Ireland, we have made a strong commitment to the market with, so far, extremely positive results.
"The businesses we have funded in Northern Ireland have all been built on strong fundamentals and are just as credit-worthy as any similar business elsewhere in the UK.
"There are ample opportunities in Northern Ireland for lenders like ourselves to help SMEs looking for the funding they need to help them grow."
He added: "They might want to use a loan to expand, to refinance existing debt, depending on their previous borrowing they may need it in order to exit a difficult situation they have historically with some of the banks.
"The situation alters perceptions because a lot of people look at it from afar - they perceive there to be risks to individual businesses which might not be there.
"It might mean that they miss out on opportunities to expand their businesses or buy new products."
Ortus launched operations in Northern Ireland nearly two years ago, after it was set up in April 2013.