Alistair Darling demanded businesses be given the lowest possible interest rates on borrowing last night after holding talks with bank chiefs.
The Chancellor warned the Government would be scrutinising lenders to ensure they did not charge any more than was “absolutely necessary”.
But he also admitted that ministers could not step in and force banks to hand out cash to companies.
The “robust” discussions at the Treasury, which were also attended by business secretary Lord Mandelson, came amid concerns that problems with the availability and cost of credit is holding back economic recovery.
Senior executives from banks including HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland were grilled on their lending practices and rates. Speaking after the hour-long session, Mr Darling said: “I am concerned to make sure that banks do not charge any more than is absolutely necessary.
“The banks will say that, because interest rates have come down, people are paying less now.
“I think that the advantage of low interest rates has to be passed on. Of course there are arrangement fees that need to be paid and so on, but I am concerned to make sure that banks do not charge any more than is absolutely necessary.”
Mr Darling said the Government would be working with “each individual bank in this country at chief executive level” to ensure lending was being made available and profit margins were not too high. But, asked why the Government did not do more to intervene in the actions of taxpayer-owned banks, he stressed that it was for individual lenders to decide on “credit worthiness”.