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Big banks aren't helping small businesses say UK200Group

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Members of the UK200Group of independent chartered accountants and lawyers firms have slammed the major high street banks for their poor quality of service to small businesses.

In a survey of members carried out at the UK200Group's annual conference in Cardiff today (13 November), which was attended by professionals across the UK with more than 150,000 business clients, 43 per cent of those polled said secondary banks provided the best service to SME clients.

Of the big high street names, just 11 per cent said HSBC provided the best service, with Lloyds TSB polling 12 per cent, and Barclays only 15 per cent. Nineteen per cent of respondents said NatWest RBS provided good service to small businesses.

Members also hit out at banks for failing to rebuild trust with the public following the financial crisis, with 43 per cent saying they were just paying lip service, but not really trying. Twenty-nine per cent said they were trying to rebuild trust but it will be an uphill struggle, while only three per cent believing that banks are trying hard and trust is slowing returning.

There was optimism surrounding the economy, with 87 per cent believing the UK economy will continue to improve over the next two years.

However 34 per cent said that a lack of skilled workforce was holding back British businesses, while 33 per cent claimed that a lack of access to credit and finance was the biggest hurdle facing businesses at the moment.

The survey also revealed that 48 per cent of small businesses were keen to do business overseas, but needed some help to do so. Fifteen per cent of members said small businesses were not equipped to deal with exports and there is little support available to them, while 17 per cent said the banking and regulatory system made international trade overly complex and expensive so small businesses don't even try to export.

With the General Election only six months away, the survey also asked what the most important topic is for political parties. Perhaps unsurprisingly 56 per cent said the economy was the most important issue, 18 per cent said it was an EU referendum, 13 per cent immigration, nine per cent the NHS and only three per cent taxation policy.

Members were also asked their views on immigration and the EU. Of those surveyed, 33 per cent said that we should only allow the free movement of the skills we need, 31% said they believed EU migration is fine but we need to stop the benefit scroungers and 27 per cent said labour migration is good for the UK and brings us net benefits. Only three per cent of members thought it needed to be curbed because immigrants are either claiming benefits or taking jobs off British people and driving down wages.

On the issue of an EU Referendum, the survey revealed a split over whether the UK public should be offered one. According to the survey 35 per cent said we probably ought to have one to put arguments to bed, 27 per cent said we shouldn't have one because the electorate wouldn't make the best decision, while 21 per cent said we must have one and decide whether to stay in or leave.

The survey also revealed that small businesses were not prepared for auto enrolment for pensions, with just 13 per cent of members' SME clients having everything arranged or under control, while 56 per cent were aware of it but hadn't taken any action. Worryingly 20 per cent of members' SME clients think that because they are small it can't apply to them, while 11 per cent still hadn't appreciated they need to do something about it.

UK200Group president Nick Willis, said: "These results make for particularly interesting reading as they reflect the views of professional advisers working with business owners across the UK.

"What the survey does reveal is that small businesses continually face poor service from the big banks, and struggle to access the finance to help them grow. The big banks need to sit up and take note, putting in steps to work with SMEs which are the backbone of the UK economy.

"The issue of immigration and the EU is a particularly controversial one, with numerous politicians trying to shape public opinion on the issue. While our members are split on the issue of an EU referendum, the vast majority believe that labour migration is vital to a strong economy if the right conditions are in place."

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