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Opinion

UK: Bankers threatened for not lending more

 

The big-five UK banks have promised to lend £76 billion ($124 billion) to SMEs this year as part of the Project Merlin deal with the UK government whereby they avoided being forced to split off their investment banking arms from their retail operations. But fury at the banks still boils in the UK. The Forum of Private Business, an SME lobby group, was scathing at news UK banks had lent only £16.8 billion to SMEs in the first three months of 2011, well short of the target of £19 billion. Chief executive Phil Orford dismisses the banks’ explanation of muted demand from creditworthy borrowers as "the same old excuses". He decries a "widening knowledge gap when it comes to lenders’ ability to gauge small business risk" and called on banks to "hand decision-making powers back to local branch managers" that are better placed to assess borrowers and away from "the over-centralized, tick-box mentality we are seeing now". At least he did not endorse the tactics of one frustrated loan applicant, Gabriel Radzikowski, who took offence at the failure of a neighbour, Sara Lilly, to use her influence as a director of the local Barclays bank in Bath to help him obtain a loan to pay his rent.

Rather than appealing to the Forum of Private Business, Radzikowski chose to kidnap Ms Lilly’s dog, a Yorkshire terrier called Bilbo Baggins. Radzikowski phoned Ms Lilly threatening the pet if she didn’t stump up some cash. Thankfully, the dog was rescued from a frozen pond and the dognapper arrested and found guilty at Bristol Crown Court of blackmail and intimidation.

It must have been an unpleasant ordeal for Ms Lilly. But readers’ comments in reports of the case in UK newspaper the Daily Mail suggest little sympathy for anyone in the case save Bilbo himself. "I despise the bankers of this country and all that they stand for, but what did this poor, defenceless animal do to deserve this?" asks Claire from Belfast.

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