Vince Cable promises to take 'tough line' on banks

image captionVince Cable has already said he wants to cut regulations

Business Secretary Vince Cable has said he plans to take a "tough line" with parts of the UK banking system.

Mr Cable said he would press banks to ensure they were meeting lending targets, especially those to small and medium-sized businesses.

He said this was a key factor to help an early economic recovery.

Mr Cable had earlier faced questions from MPs seeking assurances about £730m worth of help for business which is now under review.

The review of the previous government's pledges is part of efforts to cut public spending this year.

"We inherited a very large number of projects which were agreed in a hurry in the run-up to the last general election," Mr Cable told MPs in his first business questions in the House of Commons.

'Stifle recovery'

In what was described as his first major speech as business secretary, Mr Cable pledged to "redouble our efforts to ensure that bank lending agreements from banks that have benefited from taxpayer subsidy are being honoured - especially for SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises]".

He went on to say the banks were wrong to say there was no demand.

"If the bar is set too high, of course no one is willing to jump," said Mr Cable.

"The current risk aversion by banks in the SME sector will stifle recovery and, if it does, will actually rebound on the banks through bad debt."

Red tape

An immediate review of all new business regulation planned by the previous government was also announced this week.

During business questions, the government underlined its determination to cut the red tape that it says is hampering businesses and the UK's economic recovery.

"We have already in the first few days identified several billion pounds of costs involved in those regulations," Business Minister Mark Prisk told MPs.

"We want to make sure that where we can, we remove them so that business can get on and grow."

The business department claims that the cost of implementing all new regulation in the pipeline would be £5bn in this financial year and £19bn after that.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said the coalition government's pledge on tackling excessive regulations meant that its calls "have finally been heard".

"Regulation has long been stifling business growth, so these plans to put an end to the excessive legislation that choke small businesses is welcome news," said FSB policy chairman Mike Cherry.

Projects review

A number of MPs sought reassurances during business questions that promises of financial help made by the previous government to firms in their area would not be rescinded.

"All projects are being reviewed," Mr Cable told Phil Wilson MP, whose constituency includes the Nissan plant which is set to receive £20m.

"We have to review affordability and value for money in every case."

The Department for Business confirmed that it had given the Treasury details of loans and grants made this year, as part of a review of all Whitehall spending decisions made since January that are above the level needing Treasury approval.

The measures under review are:

  • £80m loan to Sheffield Forgemasters to manufacture nuclear industry technology
  • £270m of loan guarantees to General Motors Europe to secure the future of Vauxhall plants in the UK
  • £360m loan guarantee to Ford for research and development of green car engines
  • £20.7m grant to Nissan for production of a new electric car model.

The car industry is understood to have lobbied ministers to make quick decisions on the loans and guarantees.

Unions have also written to Mr Cable urging him to press ahead with the Sheffield Forgemasters loan.

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