Sunday, July 26, 2009
Alistair Darling: 'We did not stabilise the banking system out of some charitable act'
The chancellor is to quiz bank bosses over how much they charge small firms for loans, saying he is "extremely concerned" their rates may be too high.
Alastair Darling said the cost of loans seemed to have risen, despite the UK's record low base interest rate of 0.5%.
He told the BBC that banks had a duty to restore lending levels, saying the government did not rescue the banking sector "out of some charitable act".
He has called a meeting with bank executives in Downing St on Monday.
'Do their part'
"The public will not understand it if they [the banks] don't seem to be doing their part," he told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show.
"I want them to rebuild their balance sheets... but at the same time, because of the particular circumstances we're in now, because of the fact we've got this recession, we also need them to lend money," said Mr Darling.
"And that's why we re-capitalised them to do that, and that means they've got to live up to the promises that they made."
It is hugely important that Mr Darling keeps tabs on the banks to ensure they are lending money to firms, and at fair rates
Stephen Alambritis, Federation of Small Businesses
A number of banks needed emergency funding from the government due to the credit crunch.
They included Lloyds, which owns Halifax and Bank of Scotland, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), which includes NatWest, and Northern Rock.
Others, such as Barclays and HSBC have not needed any government cash.
Mr Darling's comments come after a report by financial website Moneyfacts said banks had increased the interest rates they charge for personal mortgages nearly fourfold in recent months, despite the base rate remaining at a record low of 0.5%.
Angela Knight, the chief executive of the British Bankers' Association (BSA), said banks had to pay a lot more than 0.5% for the funds they themselves borrowed in the wholesale money markets, and they had to pass this on to customers.
She said that despite this, the banks were now "stepping up" to meet the increased demand for small business loans.
BBA figures due out on Monday are expected to show that industry-wide lending to small firms rose by £391m in June. This compares with the £153m rise in May, £287m increase in April, and £271m gain in March.
However, Stephen Alambritis, chief spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses, said the chancellor was "quite right to haul in the banks".
"It is hugely important that Mr Darling keeps tabs on the banks to ensure they are lending money to firms, and at fair rates," he said.
"Firms need to be able to reap the benefits of the historically low base rate."
Mr Darling also reiterated that VAT will definitely return to 17.5% from the current 15% level at the end of the year. The rate of VAT was reduced to 15% on 1 December 2008 to help boost retail sales.
Turning his attention to the wider economy, the chancellor said he was sticking to the prediction that the recovery will start "at the turn of the year", with modest growth being seen in 2010.
Official figures showed last week that the UK economy continued to contract between April and June, although at a slower rate than between January and March.
The economy shrunk 0.8% last quarter, compared with a decline of 2.4% from January to March.
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