The funding for lending scheme is aimed at boosting bank lending to the real economy and has already led to some of the cheapest mortgage rates on record. Through the seed enterprise investment scheme, the Government provide generous tax relief for investment in firms with high growth potential, and we will deploy an additional £1 billion through the business bank.
Does the Chief Secretary agree that raising share capital is a vital way to help businesses grow, in addition to loan finance? Between 40 and 50 extra initial public offerings in technology companies could come to the UK in the next six months if we get conditions right, so in the forthcoming Budget will the Treasury do all it can to help businesses access share capital?
I certainly agree that there is a need to diversify the range of funding sources, including the one my hon. Friend describes, particularly for small businesses and businesses with high growth potential. That is the purpose of the seed enterprise investment scheme. The business bank has a remit to try to diversify the range of sources of finance available for small businesses, because in this country we are too dependent on solely bank finance. I shall certainly consider what my hon. Friend said.
Small and medium-sized businesses are still finding it difficult to get banks to lend them essential finance. What further steps can the Minister take to reconnect banks with the reality of business? Up to now, it seems that banks have been a law unto themselves.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. That is the purpose of a number of the schemes I mentioned earlier. The funding for lending scheme is designed to get banks to lend more to small businesses, and a complaints process has been put in place, allowing independent adjudication when cases go wrong. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to refer constituents to the scheme, which has overturned bank decisions in a large number of cases.
In welcoming the funding for lending scheme and the other measures my right hon. Friend mentioned, may I urge him to break up and sell off as soon as possible the publicly owned banks, so that we have more competition on the high street, and constituents of mine who are unable to borrow on good projects have more to choose from?
It is right that we own large chunks of two banks, because that was necessary to clear up the mess of the under-regulated, overheated banking system that was created under the present Opposition when the shadow Chancellor was City Minister. We are working as hard as we can to get those banks in good order and we are making progress in the direction that my hon. Friend suggests.
The experience of small businesses across the UK does not match the rosy picture painted by the Chancellor earlier or by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Last week we learned that, despite the funding for lending scheme, net lending to businesses was down £4.5 billion in the last quarter. Will the Chancellor now act on Labour’s calls to reform the scheme immediately so that small and medium-sized enterprises get the funding that they so urgently need?
I am sorry that we did not hear the apology for the mess that was made in the financial system by the Opposition when they were in office. Many of the steps that we are taking are necessary to repair the damage that the hon. Lady and her Front-Bench colleagues did to the financial system and the banking system. She should also have noted that net lending to the real economy increased by £2.5 billion in January 2013. The schemes that we are putting in place are making a difference, but we are facing a continuing very challenging situation and that is why we will continue to look for further things to do to help small businesses.