I ask the Minister of Finance and Personnel what success he has had in persuading banks to extend credit to small and medium-sized enterprises, and to increase liquidity within the economy. (AQO 697/10)
With your permission, Mr speaker is in charge of proceedings of the House of Commons in…”>Deputy Speaker, I will answer questions 4 and 5 together.
As the chairperson of the Executive’s cross-sector advisory forum banking group, I have convened a number of meetings of key stakeholders on this issue. There is mounting evidence to suggest that local banks have adopted a conservative approach to lending to local businesses. That makes it increasingly difficult for them to maintain cash flow and investment requirements. I have, therefore, worked with the Institute of Directors andInvest Northern Ireland to develop a quick guide to accessing finance. That guide has now been circulated to local firms through the various business organisations, and that initiative will assist local firms in their engagements with banks.
I have also formally raised the matter of bank lending with the Treasury Ministers, and the issue is to be raised at the bank lending panel, which is chaired by the Chancellor. While strengthening their own balance sheets, local banks should also ensure that they give support to local businesses. Without strong local businesses, our economy will be weak.
I thank the Minister for his response. Obviously he has been active in this respect.
Last week, I spoke to a member of the Bangor Chamber of Commerce, who suggested that bank lending had not changed since the Minister had last spoken with the banks, and that some long-established businesses were in danger of going out of business because of cash flow problems. Is the Minister monitoring what the banks are doing? Has he any evidence of a change in bank lending since he spoke to the banks last?