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Business Bank

Volume 571: debated on Thursday 5 December 2013

The British business bank is being established to increase the supply of capital to smaller businesses throughout the UK, resulting in increased competition in the banking sector from alternative lenders, such as peer-to-peer lenders and challenger banks. It is being established with £1 billion of new capital, with another £250 million announced on Monday for new small business programmes.

The Secretary of State will know that Bank of England figures show that small business lending fell by £1.5 billion over the past quarter. Can he reassure us that this new institution will be more than simply rebranding the previous schemes that have proved so unsuccessful?

The right hon. Gentleman is right that there is a negative trend in net lending. It has been sustained and is worrying, although gross lending is now beginning to recover quite rapidly. The interventions of the business bank will do two things. They will support existing schemes—in fact the take-up under the guarantee schemes has risen by 85% over the last year since they came under the business bank—and they will provide new funding. He will know that, under agreements we have already reached, new debt funds have been supported, and those will find their way into support for small businesses in his and other constituencies.

In north Cumbria, we already have the very successful Cumberland building society. Does the Secretary of State agree that such societies should be supported and, most importantly, smaller financial organisations should not be overburdened by regulation?

The hon. Gentleman is right that the building societies have a crucial role, primarily of course in mortgage lending, which is their traditional business, but some of them are moving into small business lending and that is very welcome. One of the reasons why the Chancellor and I did not support the recommendations of the parliamentary commission on leverage ratios was to protect building societies and enable them to expand.

Given the failure of successive well-intentioned but ineffective Government schemes to boost lending for small businesses, including £78 million of unallocated resources for the funding for lending scheme, will the Secretary of State outline what extra measures he will take to ensure that the business bank succeeds where other schemes have failed?

The bank is already succeeding. As I said to the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), there has been a very big increase in the lending being made available under the existing schemes and a big growth in equity-related activity. I think he will find that, as the business bank moves forward, we will use the £1.25 billion of new capital from the Treasury to do exactly what it was designed to achieve. I am very positive about the bank’s future.

The Secretary of State admits that there have been problems with the Government’s plans. One area of lending at a local level that has been picking up the pieces and expanding is payday lending to businesses. Does the Secretary of State now accept that his Department was wrong to oppose capping the cost of credit, given that businesses have been ripped off by legal loan sharks as much as consumers?

The evidence from Bristol university among others, which we support, suggested genuine potential problems with a cap on interest rates, but we have been persuaded, on the balance of evidence, that we should do it. There are good experiences, in places such as Florida in the United States, that we will now seek to apply in the UK. I congratulate the hon. Lady and others on their persistent campaigning on this subject. I think we have now achieved a good outcome.