Small firms slam banks’ lending withdrawal

The UK’s largest business group has accused banks of “pulling up the drawbridge” to small firms and new figures show a huge drop in lending to SMEs.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has warned that a lack of willingness to lend to SMEs will further stifle economic growth.

The organisation’s undertook a survey which found fewer than one in ten (9%) of small firms applied for finance in Q1 2022, the lowest proportion since its Small Business Index (SBI) records began. The share that saw applications approved (43%) is also at a record low.

The number of respondents describing the availability of credit as “good” (19%) tumbled to its lowest point since 2016. A minority (44%) of successful applicants were offered a borrowing rate of up to 4% in Q1, the figure is down 32 percentage points on the same period last year.

Of the few firms that did manage to secure finance, four in ten (42%) plan to use credit to manage cashflow, considerably more than the numbers planning to use funds for equipment updates (21%), expansion (19%) or recruitment (4%).

FSB national chair Martin McTague said: “Lenders pulling up the drawbridge for small firms will threaten our already faltering economic recovery.

“Businesses are born every day across the UK – many need funding to get off the ground, ensuring they reach a stage where they’re profitable and creating opportunities.

“A lot of those who’ve worked tirelessly to adapt, survive and thrive over lockdowns need finance too, empowering them to take their firms to the next level, driving our economic recovery and the transition to net zero in the process.

“A big chunk of what little finance is being accessed is being used to manage cashflow challenges as our late payment crisis worsens, rather than for much-needed investment and innovation.”

The majority (61%) of small firms, said they were impacted by late payment of invoices over the first quarter of this year. A quarter (26%) say the propensity for late payment is growing, with close to one in ten (7%) experiencing late payment for the first time in Q1 of this year.

Of those that applied for finance, the majority (61%) sought traditional overdraft and/ or loan products. A quarter (25%) applied for asset-based finance, such as invoice finance, with smaller numbers seeking funds through peer-to-peer platforms (7%) and/ or crowdfunding (5%).

Latest Bank of England figures show the annual growth rate of lending to SMEs at a record low, despite small firms making net debt repayments of close to £1 billion in March alone. Lending to big corporates, by contrast, has increased significantly since the start of the year.

One in ten (11%) small firms plan to close, sell or downsize their business over the coming year, equating to more than half a million businesses.

McTague added: “The Government should accelerate delivery of our proposal to make Audit Committees directly responsible for supply chain practice to address this worrying trend.

“Culture change is what’s needed here – lenders taking an objective approach to small business finance and big corporates putting best supply chain practice at the heart of environmental, social and governance programmes.

“The result would be win-win: strength in corporate supply chains and a thriving small business community driving economic growth from the ground up.”

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