Business Minister Shriti Vadera told the British Chambers of Commerce convention in Birmingham that said she was not above ringing up the chief executives of banks and “harassing” them over their lending to firms.
Baroness Vadera insisted the Government was taking a hands-on approach to tackling the lack of bank credit which many companies in the West Midlands say is depriving them of the finance they need to keep afloat.
“We are saying that the banks have to be open for business,” she said after her speech at the International Convention Centre. She cited an example of one owner of a local business, a precision engineering firm, who told a regional lending roadshow held in Birmingham that it had approached Barclays for a £700,000 loan in January and was still waiting to receive a reply.
She said she had managed to get a promise from Barclays that the bank would get back to the owner this week. “If that doesn’t happen, I will be ringing the chief executive of Barclays,” she said.
Baroness Vadera said that although it was clearly not possible for the Government to intervene in every case where businesses were being deprived of vital finance, she would be monitoring trends that emerged in the coming weeks.
She said: “Our focus has been to ensure the banks have sufficient capital and liquidity and then to ensure they use it to lend. We now have, from the main banks, commitments to increase net lending to businesses this year by £36billion. At least £8bn of that is earmarked for small businesses. Two of these commitments are legally binding - the first of their kind in the world.”
She said it was the firms assembled at the convention at the ICC in Birmingham that would be the key to Britain’s economic recovery.
“I have spent the last year worrying about the things that worry you,” she said.
In an earlier speech, BCC director-general David Frost had criticised the new Equalities Bill being championed by Labour’s deputyleader, Harriet Harman, which he said would weigh down businesses already struggling under the burden of red tape.
Baroness Vadera claimed that the legislation would only come in 2013 if the voluntary approach to the gender pay gap wasn’t working and only then for companies with less than 240 employees.
She also said that skills were now one of the most significant issues facing the United Kingdom in terms of its’ future competitiveness.
“We have to focus on training through employers which is why we introduced the Train to Gain programme,” she said. “The concern we have is that there are going to be about six million unskilled workers in 2020 and there are only going to be about three million unskilled jobs, so we really need to focus on this.”