Ambitious businesses have been handed a boost of confidence by regional banking chiefs after it was revealed net lending had continued to rise across East Anglia.

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Call me, RBS small business chief tells local firms caught up in alleged scandal

The chairman of small business banking at the Royal Bank of Scotland said Norfolk and Suffolk firms can email him personally if they have concerns regarding allegations that the bank deliberately forced companies into default to seize their properties.

Peter Ibbetson said he had a four-hour meeting with Laurence Tomlinson – business secretary Vince Cable’s special adviser – after his report into alleged malpractice by RBS sparked a national probe.

During the banking forum, Mr Ibbetson said he had read the report by Mr Tomlinson, but refused to comment any further.

Meanwhile, David Ruffley urged caution over Mr Tomlinson’s findings, claiming the report was predominantly based on anecdotal evidence.

For more information about how to reach Mr Ibbetson, contact your local branch of RBS.

But the announcement was tempered by the frustrations of Norfolk and Suffolk businesses, amid claims the banks have been too slow to compensate the victims of the interest-rate swap scandal.

During the Federation of Small Businesses annual banking conference, regional representatives of the five high-street banks revealed to a panel of six MPs – and a 70-strong audience of Norfolk and Suffolk firms – how net lending figures had outperformed last year.

It came as MPs used the occasion to call on the banks to provide them with clear information about the region’s economy that could support their campaign to improve the A47.

Lloyds reported a net lending growth of 5pc across the east, with £62m leant to the region’s manufacturing sector in the last nine months.

HSBC saw a 6pc rise in net lending to East Anglia firms with a turnover of £30m or more by December last year.

RBS said in the last year it had actively sought to lend more money to businesses, with more than a billion pounds leant to firms that had not approached the bank for a loan.

Barclays reported an improving picture for Norfolk, with net lending up 1.6pc, including a 10pc rise in lending to the agricultural sector nationwide.

And Santander, which has a smaller presence in the region, increased its lending in East Anglia by 25pc in the 12 months to September – totalling £137m.

Steve Elsom, commercial area director of Lloyds Bank for East Anglia, said: “It’s absolutely clear that the small business sector is at the heart of the Lloyds agenda.”

But Chris Soule, East Anglia policy chairman for the Federation of Small Businesses, questioned the banks commitment to financing small businesses.

He said: “It appears that the banks are still not understanding small businesses because they have spent a lot of time talking about the support provided to medium-sized businesses in the meeting.

“This is the third year that we have held this banking forum and the banks should not have to be prompted to talk about the needs of small businesses – that is what concerns me.”

Meanwhile, Peter Ibbetson, chairman of small business banking for the Royal Bank of Scotland, admitted that the banks had been too slow to address the problems caused by the interest-rate swap scandal, where some small firms were mis-sold financial products that put their businesses at risk.

He said: “This is taking too long for everybody. If there are still any distressed cases then we will look at them as fast as we can. It has to be looked into properly.”

During the question and answer session with the region’s MPs, David Ruffley, MP for Bury St Edmunds, said the government was supporting start-up banks to make the banking sector more competitive by.

Liz Truss called on the banks to support the MPs in their campaign to improve the A47 by providing clear economic information about East Anglia.

She said: “We are getting more transparency from the banks.

“I have spoken of the benefits banks can provide by giving clearer information. This could help us point to the economic value to the region of dualling the A47.”

Richard Bacon, MP for South Norfolk, urged banks to address the gaps in services where they have pulled out of market towns, calling on them to provide a one-stop-shop service. He said: “Would it not be better if there was some collaborative approach and the person behind the counter in the bank could help you no matter who you banked with.”

And while Peter Aldous, MP for Waveney, welcomed the benefit of having sector-specialist bank managers, he called for more thought to be given to where they are placed – including the need for an energy specialist to support the Norfolk and Suffolk coast’s burgeoning energy industry.

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