£80bn funding boosts bank lending

Banks are starting to boost lending to cash-starved households and businesses as part of an £80 billion plan to free up credit, the Bank of England has said.

The Bank revealed it had seen an "early impact" of its Funding for Lending scheme as borrowing rates begin to come down, but warned it may not be able to prevent total lending from falling over the next 18 months as wider global economic troubles continue to weigh on markets.

The Bank confirmed 13 banks and building societies - accounting for around 73% of UK lending - have signed up to the programme, which started in August by offering banks cheap funding on the condition that they increase lending to businesses and households.

Lloyds Banking Group, Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland, Santander and Nationwide Building Society are among those on the list.

HSBC has not joined the scheme, as it uses deposits from retail customers to lend - although it said it had not ruled out signing up in the future.

Speaking at Richmond University, Bank of England executive director for markets Paul Fisher said he was "confident" the scheme would help boost the supply of credit in the UK after early encouraging signs since its launch.

Banking groups - such as part-nationalised Royal Bank of Scotland - have already begun reducing borrowing rates on some of their products and easing lending terms and conditions.

Mr Fisher said: "Since the scheme was announced we have seen widespread falls in funding costs across different sources and an equally wide variety of lending rate reductions." He added: "Before its introduction, it was more likely than not that the stock of credit would contract further over the next 18 months. Perhaps it still may. But any return to positive credit growth would be a better outcome than we could have previously hoped for."

Mr Fisher said while 13 banks had signed up initially, there were a "significant number" of other groups close to signing up.

New figures from the British Bankers' Association (BBA) also showed tentative signs of improvement in lending conditions, with mortgage approvals rising slightly between July and August from 29,000 to 30,533 last month. But while the BBA confirmed signs of increased competition on mortgage rates, most of this has been aimed at borrowers with larger deposits. And on a year-on-year basis, mortgage approvals fell 13% in August, the BBA said.