Coronavirus: Business loans top £1.1bn

Businesses have been given more than £1.1bn so far under a government-backed emergency loan scheme to help small and medium sized firms survive the lockdown, new figures show.

Total lending under the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme (CBILS) has grown by £700m in the past week, industry body UK Finance said.

The figures come after criticism that not enough of the £330bn support package announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been reaching struggling firms quickly enough.

Mr Sunak noted in response to the latest data that loan approvals had doubled in a week, adding: “It’s vital we continue this upward trajectory.”

UK Finance said lenders had received 28,461 applications to the scheme from businesses with 6,016 approved to date totalling £1.115bn in value.

Others were still being processed and were “expected to be approved over the coming days”.

Ed Miliband, Labour’s shadow business secretary, said the figures showed the scheme was “simply not working well enough”, comparing it unfavourably to an initiative in Switzerland, where banks extended more than 76,000 loans totalling nearly £12bn to firms in just a few days.

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UK Finance chief executive Stephen Jones said: “The banking and finance sector recognises the challenging conditions facing many businesses and the critical role we must play in helping the country get through this crisis.

“Frontline staff in local branches and call centres are working incredibly hard to help firms access finance as quickly as possible amid unprecedented demand.

“Like all businesses they are working at reduced capacity as many staff are self-isolating or looking after family.”

Mr Jones said many staff had worked through the Easter bank holiday to help process the loans.

Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “These figures represent an improvement but we need to see much more.”

He suggested that in future the government might need to guarantee the entirety of emergency loans being offered.

“If volumes don’t improve then all options should be kept on the table, including an upping of the 80% guarantee,” Mr Cherry said. “Other European nations like Germany have already opted for the 100% point.”

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The pressure facing small businesses under lockdown was also underlined in a letter from the head of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to insurance companies.

Christopher Woolard, the FCA’s interim chief executive, urged insurers to assess and pay quickly claims made in relation to the pandemic.

But he said most policies for small and medium sized businesses only gave basic cover, with no obligation to pay out because of the coronavirus – adding that there were therefore “no reasonable grounds” for the FCA to intervene.

The figures on coronavirus emergency loans come a day after UK Finance revealed the scale of support being given to homeowners, with one in nine mortgages now taking a payment holiday under measures designed to support those financially affected by the outbreak.

However, some lenders have defied pressure to ease the burden on households by hiking interest rates on key mortgage products.

Meanwhile, a number of banks have cut dividends and slashed pay for top executives after coming under pressure from the Bank of England.

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