Show Hide image

Make non-bank finance available for SMEs, says CBI

"Growing firms also need 'patient' capital."

Making alternative sources of debt such as non-bank finance available for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) could help reduce risks and support in business recovery, the UK's employers' association CBI said today.

In its February submission to the review led by Tim Breedon into alternative sources of debt, the CBI suggests ways to boost the supply of non-bank finance, as well as solutions to the current lack of demand.

The CBI also suggested that removing barriers to secure non-bank lending would be helpful to SMEs, which for a long time have depended mostly on bank lending.

Greater access to less complex non-bank credit such as bonds and private placements will also help smaller firms to effectively run their businesses under volatile or slow economic conditions.

John Cridland, director-general at CBI, said: "While banks will remain an important part of the funding landscape, growing firms also need 'patient' capital, with a longer investment return horizon. To deliver this, we need to give our firms access to new sources of funding, such as by opening UK bond markets to medium-sized businesses.

"The government's £1bn of business finance partnerships will also help stimulate investment in these companies."

In an effort to meet the needs of SMEs, the CBI is also proposing the independent financial advisers (IFAs) programme.

To encourage small and medium-sized businesses, the UK's top business lobbying organisation recommends creation of a mid-sized bond market in the country, provision of short-term tax incentives, and sensitisation of non-bank finance sources in the country.

"This is as much a problem of demand as supply. Firms need independent help and support to locate the finance that's right for them. So we must cut through the red tape and complexity surrounding non-bank finance to make it more easily understood by small and mid-sized businesses, which often lack the resources of a larger company.

"We also need to make it simpler for alternative lenders to judge the credit worthiness of SMEs," Cridland added.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.