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Improving credit conditions to drive rise in business lending, says E&Y Item Club
Improving credit conditions and falling bad debts will drive the first rise in business lending in four years, while the Government's revamped flagship lending scheme will make no "material difference", according to an influential forecasting body.

Lending to British companies is expected to rise 3pc to £440bn this year, after shrinking 5pc in 2012 to £427bn, according to the Ernst & Young (E&Y) Item Club.

E&Y also expected the rise in lending trends to continue, with loans expected to rise by 8.5pc to £477 billion in 2014.

Andy Baldwin, head of financial services in Europe at E&Y, said: "Behind the scenes, banking fundamentals have quietly been improving and banks are now in a better position to be able to provide funds to the wider economy.

The Item Club expects improving credit conditions and economic growth to cut bad debt write-downs to £9.3bn or 0.56pc of total loans this year, from £11.6bn in 2012.

However, Mr Baldwin also said that E&Y did not expect the Government's flagship lending scheme to make a "material difference" to the uptick in lending, despite the overhaul announced last week to boost credit for small firms.

"Our analysis suggests the main drivers of banks' return to lending will be better access to wholesale funding and a decrease in non-performing loans, rather than the Funding for Lending Scheme making a material difference" said Mr Baldwin.

The Bank of England and the Treasury last week overhauled the Funding for Lending Scheme (FLS) amid signs the flagship policy is losing its bite.

High street lenders will be offered £10 of state-subsidised funding for every £1 they lend to small companies this year, as part of an enhanced FLS that will be extended by a year to January 2015 and expanded to include specialist finance houses that provide companies with vital working capital.

The scheme will also be opened up to non-bank lenders such as invoice finance houses and leasing firms.

E&Y also predicts the Government's multi-billion pound Help to Buy package of loans and guarantees will boost the housing market, with transactions rising by 7.4pc in 2013 and 7.8pc in 2014.

Figures this month showed that business lending fell by £4.8bn in the three months to February, as demand from small businesses decreased "significantly", it said. Firms across the board chose to "reduce debts or build cash reserves" rather than borrow.

A separate survey on Monday showed that UK business confidence had improved for a second consecutive month, to its highest level in more than a year.

The net balance of Lloyds Bank's Business Barometer increased by two percentage points to 43pc in April. The balance, which weighs up the percentage of firms that are positive about their own trading outlook compared to those that are negative, is above the previous three and six month averages of 40pc and 37pc respectively.

Lloyds said this was "consistent with a continued moderate positive pace of underlying growth."

Trevor Williams, Chief Economist, Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, added: “We would expect further improvements in companies’ confidence regarding their own trading prospects and the wider economy revealed in the survey should translate into continued positive economic growth in Q2.”

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