Bankers warned to free up credit for struggling small firms
THE Government has warned senior bankers to immediately free up credit for cash-strapped small and medium businesses.
Enterprise Minister Batt O'Keeffe has ordered face-to-face meetings with executives in response to claims struggling firms are being "stone-walled".
He bluntly warned bankers they must stick to their side of the bargain agreed with the State through the vast re-capitalisation programme at the taxpayer's expense.
"My experience so far in this portfolio is that some bankers are showing scant regard for Irish taxpayers and the Government by not keeping their side of the bargain and lending to viable small and medium enterprises," he said.
"It is not acceptable that lip service be paid to government demands of banks to lend to viable businesses," he told the Irish Independent.
"Now is the time to show gratitude to Irish taxpayers for the massive sacrifices they have made in putting Ireland on the road to economic recovery after the arrogance, greed and reckless irresponsibility of our bankers that brought the country to her knees."
Mr O'Keeffe said it was vital small and medium enterprise owners were given every support to trade their way out of economic difficulty. The minister will meet with business operators and their representative bodies to obtain specific details about credit problems.
These will then be directly put to the banks.
The minister did not say which banks would be contacted, but it is believed he will be writing to AIB, Bank of Ireland, Anglo Irish Bank, Ulster Bank, National Irish Bank and Permanent TSB among others.
Small Firms Association acting director Avine McNally welcomed the move.
"We welcome any action that increases the access of SMEs to credit," she said.
"About a fifth of SMEs have been denied credit in recent times and that equates to 50,000 small firms and 160,000 jobs being put at risk," Ms McNally added.
A recent survey by the accounting firm, Mazars, found that over a third of small business loans were in arrears.