Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Pounds 350m SMEs Lifeline Welcomed in North

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Pounds 350m SMEs Lifeline Welcomed in North

Article excerpt

Byline: Karen Dent

SMALL business leaders in the North East have welcomed a pounds 350m package of measures designed to help them weather the economic storm.

And chief executives of leading banks have been summoned to a meeting tomorrow with the Government in the latest move to help small firms cope with the economic downturn.

New Business Secretary Lord Mandelson said the meeting aimed to impress on bankers the importance of continuing to lend to smaller firms at "competitive" rates similar to those offered last year.

The Government said its package directly targeted issues small businesses had highlighted including access to credit, cashflow problems and staff training to boost productivity.

The package pledged pounds 350m to improve skills by making training simpler to access.

A free business health check will be available via Business Link to identify potential issues at an early stage.

The Government itself is taking a lead on the problem of late payments to suppliers by pledging to settle bills in 10 days.

This latest initiative also aims to help with cash flow by putting businesses in touch with the Institute of Credit Management to seek advice on financial issues.

Lord Mandelson, said: "We are on the side of small and medium-sized businesses and understand that they are facing tough times.

"We want to help smaller businesses to plan for the difficult times ahead.

We want to ensure that they are healthy enough to survive and come out strongly at the other side."

The action follows regional initiatives for SMEs including negotiations for a pounds 125m European investment fund and an emergency pounds 10m support package put together by One North East.

Last week's public pounds 37bn banking bailout came with conditions that banks restore lending to SMEs to 2007 levels and maintain the availability of competitively priced lending, aiming to free up access to credit.

ONE has also agreed to pay suppliers within the 10-day time frame. The Government wants NHS Trusts, local councils and public sector employers to follow suit. …

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