‘My firm is viable – but I can’t get a loan’

Gary Crosbie wants to keep his staff on, but like other small firms, his profitable business now faces running out of cash owing to the coronavirus shutdown.

Mr Crosbie runs Interefurb, which refurbishes pubs, hotels and restaurants.

He says he can demonstrate three years of profits, with £50,000 cash in the bank.

Yet because his bank decided it didn’t wish to support the construction industry, he failed the test that required banks only to lend according to their pre-shutdown criteria. He was rejected for a government-backed loan last week.

“My accountant said, ‘You can put off paying your VAT.’ But that’s up to date. They said, ‘Well, you can put off paying national insurance’ – but I’d kept that up to date too. So for doing the right thing – I can’t get any help,” he told the BBC.

So far, banks and financial institutions have lent more than £1.1bn to small and medium-sized enterprises under the government’s coronavirus loan scheme, according to figures released by UK Finance on Wednesday.

More than 6,000 loans have now been provided, with an average value of about £185,000.

But the message from small firms and politicians is that loans are being approved too slowly – and that the government must bring in urgent reforms to the scheme to stop businesses going bust.

Among the scheme’s critics is shadow business secretary Ed Miliband, who says it is “simply not working well enough”.

He added: “The chancellor must move to a 100% guarantee of loans for smaller businesses as other countries have done. In this economic emergency, it is the right thing to do.”

The British Chambers of Commerce said that only 2% of UK firms had so far secured the loans.

Businesses are clamouring for help and will be exasperated at the tally of crisis loans that banks have succeeded in giving out.

Six thousand is way short of the number of applications and is a tiny fraction of those who face a cash flow crunch.

Many bosses have just days. They have to find a way to pay wages at the end of the month.

It is true that the rate of lending has accelerated. And the word from within the banking world that four out of five of the loans are being approved.

But everyone wants this scheme to work faster and for the money to support wages for furloughed workers to be made available as soon as possible.