18/11/2011

Access To Lending 'Critical' For Business

Bankers have been again asked to help businesses out as much as possible during the current recessionary times - with Stormont taking a leading role in encouraging them to be pro-active in aiding NI's economic recovery.

Already, increased activities by banks are happening in parallel with regular meetings between representatives of Northern Ireland's four main banks, the British Bankers' Association and Stormont's Finance Committee as part of a continuing series of meetings with local politicians to discuss the global economic downturn's effects on Northern Ireland.

Yesterday, the Stormont Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson further emphasised the importance of a strong banking sector if businesses here are to grow and survive.

The Minister was speaking to representatives from the local business community and banking sector at the 'Better Business Finance' regional event.

The event gave banking representatives an opportunity to engage directly with local business leaders to discuss a number of banking reform measures currently being implemented through the Better Business Finance Initiative.

DUP Minister Wilson said: "Access to finance and bank lending in particular is critical for our economic recovery.

"Particularly in an economy such as ours where there is a high dependence on [small and medium companies] SMEs.

"Recent evidence indicates that lending has been falling and there have been suggestions that the cost and conditions attached to credit remain significant issues for local businesses," he said.

"I welcomed the recommendations within the Business Finance Taskforce report when it was published last year and I welcome today the progress that has been made in implementing these in Northern Ireland. This represents a positive step forward in addressing some of the difficulties our local businesses have been having in accessing finance."

The Minister continued: "However, there is still a lot to do. I will be continuing my work with the local banks, both Governments and the respective regulatory authorities to ensure that the policy initiatives that they take to improve stability and liquidity can be applied here.

"I raised this issue with the Governor of the Bank of England, Sir Mervyn King, when I met him on Wednesday. In particular, I have asked him to consider what mechanisms might be put in place to ensure the benefits of UK-led initiatives are felt here in Northern Ireland," he added.

In terms of mortgages and in boosting smaller businesses and start-ups, the Ulster Bank - for example - has already accounted for the significant proportion of Co-Ownership mortgages in recent years taking over 80% of the market share in NI with the aim being to allow customers to get a footing on the increasingly steep property ladder.

The bank is also active on the business front, specifically in aiding SMEs to utilise the Government's Enterprise Finance Guarantee scheme, which was set up to help small businesses.

Ulster Bank now accounts for over 80% of all lending in Northern Ireland through the scheme since its inception in November 2008.

Other banks are aiding economic growth in several different ways too, with initiatives, such as the Northern Bank's backing for the Northern Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards 2011.

See: Stormont Fillip Helps Bankers Aid NI Economy

(BMcC/GK)

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