Bishop of Durham backs Government business loan assurances

Bishop of Durham Justin Welby

Bishop of Durham Justin Welby

First published in News

The next Archbishop of Canterbury tonight (Monday, November 12) welcomed Government moves to force banks to give more details about their lending to small and medium-sized enterprises.

The Rt Rev Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham, said funding for businesses in the smaller towns and pit villages of the North-East was ''almost non-existent''.

He was co-signatory to an amendment to the Financial Services Bill demanding that banks should publish quarterly data on the total amount of lending to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

But the amendment was withdrawn during report stage debate after Treasury spokesman Lord Newby gave assurances that ministers planned to take action on the issue.

Lord Newby told the bishop, whose appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury was confirmed on Friday: ''I'm delighted to be the first person to congratulate you from the despatch box on your new appointment.''

For the Opposition, Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town said she warmly welcomed his appointment and wished him well ''in the challenges ahead''.

Lord Newby said the Government agreed that data should be available on where bank lending was not being offered or was not getting through.

''Getting this data into the public domain will help crystallise what the problem is and what should be done about it.''

He said ministers will work with the banks to get a commitment to publish more data. This would be taken forward as an ''urgent and pressing matter''.

Should the negotiations ''fail to deliver'', changes would be made to the Banking Reform Bill, along the lines proposed in the amendment signed by the bishop and senior Liberal Democrats.

The bishop, who will take on the Church of England's most senior post next March and was speaking in the Lords for the first time since the announcement of his appointment, thanked ministers for their concession.

He said it was important that data were available not only for Parliament and the public but for the new Financial Conduct Authority, to help it fulfil its regulatory role.

''I'm particularly conscious of this in the area where I live, in the smaller towns of the North East, the pit towns and pit villages, where access to finance for SMEs is almost non-existent. This will reveal that kind of problem very clearly.''

He cited the case of a local man who had spent 18 months trying to raise £200 for a painting and decorating business and eventually got support through a social enterprise scheme.

''Such a small amount has enabled him to become self-sufficient with an order book full until next May. It is that kind of thing that can make a significant difference in the small economies of the more rural areas.''

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