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Outlook for consumer lending picks up, but not for businesses

Consumer lending increased by £1.2 billion in September to a four year high, latest figures from the Bank of England (BoE) show.

The rate of mortgage approvals also hit a four-month high, rising to 50,034 last month from 47,921 in August, although the figure remains down on the year.

While separate data also shows an improved outlook for consumer lending due to falling inflation and rising employment, the outlook for business lending looks less promising.

The Bank's Trends in Lending report published in the middle of October revealed that the stock of lending to UK businesses fell by over £2 billion in the three months to August.

One economic finance group said that the fall in loans could leave SMEs facing a funding gap of £19 billion in 2012. Overall it predicts a one per cent contraction in lending to businesses and households 2012, following a 1.5 per cent fall last year.

Economic commentators have said that the Government's latest Funding for Lending Scheme (FLS) - aimed at increasing bank lending to the public - will boost the mortgage lending market but do little to help small businesses struggling to access finance.

Recent tighter regulation means that banks are now forced to store up more reserve capital, leaving many small businesses feeling the squeeze.

Adam Marshall, director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said the BoE's figures were 'disappointing' for businesses.

"These numbers reflect underlying uncertainty across the economy," he said.

"However, they also suggest that the banking sector is continuing to deleverage, that the cost of credit has not come down despite repeated interventions, and that there are still many businesses out there who say that cannot access the credit they need."

He added that The Bank of England, the Government and the banks now needed to press ahead with the Government backed Business Bank, highlighting that it should be able to lend 'directly to some companies in future.'