Lending, lenders, banks, access to finance - the dreaded words of the small and medium sized business community since the economic crash and banking crisis.
Ask any bank in the UK and they will hand on heart tell you - "we are lending to small business and we have the figures to prove it!"
Is this mere deflection? Probably not.
Chuka Umunna, Shadow Minister for Small Business and Enterprise recently posted The Lifeblood of the Economy which contains this - "The Government negotiated the Project Merlin agreement with the banks in February, promising it would lead to an increase in lending to SMEs by £10 billion (from £66 billion in 2010 to £76 billion in 2011), yet the banks collectively missed the quarterly target by £2.2 billion for the first quarter of this year. This is supported by the Bank of England's agents out in the country - they say small firms "generally perceived credit conditions to be very tight" and "were reluctant to approach banks in case it led to an increase in the cost of existing borrowings, or reductions in overdraft limits". Consequently many are resorting to using personal credit cards and other means to help with cash flow. We cannot go on like this."
It's a good point Project Merlin - the agreement between banks and Central Government which cemented lending of about £190bn to businesses during 2011 - and included £76bn to SMEs, has fallen short of its first target, but that doesn't really mean finance is harder to obtain or that the banks are not playing ball?
So is there another reason lending to SMEs is harder to obtain?
Are the business start-up ideas lacking substance, or are some existing companies not performing well enough? Possibly.
Is it right and proper that a lender, risking its shareholder returns should expect you to risk some of your own money in your venture? Are we risk adverse when stumping up cash? Is it easier to lose someone else's?
Could it be that banks now rely on computer based risk models, so when the 'computer says no' its nothing personal. It's the computers fault, not the friendly bank manager giving your innovative business idea the thumbs down or cutting off access to cash during your liquidity issues.
....Is there another reason why lenders are cautious?
The SME community has seen a rise in lenders asking for greater security, for example personal guarantees secured on Directors homes. Why the sudden need for increased security?
What if, it isn't a sudden need.......what if nobody noticed during the boom years and only now that the dust has settled do we find a reason, that has been largely overlooked outside of legal circles.
Ladies and Gentlemen - the Brumark Decision.
Which, in 2005 made the banks proceed with caution towards SME lending.
It is a pity that the thinking or feelings around Brumark didn't apply to all aspects of the banking/lending regime - SMEs wouldn't have needed Project Merlin or Central Government interventions.
Facts are facts - Brumark was under a Labour watch and what did they do at the time to inform small businesses? Did Labour approach the banks and say "hey, chaps we really need to inform small businesses...."
I think not, but this isn't a political football or time to run the party lines.
SMEs don't need point scoring. We need to avoid being kicked into the long political grass. We don't need to be kept cosy with promises during the next election run-up.
We need some straight talking.
I listened recently to the Rt Hon John Denham at a House of Commons breakfast, talk about small business and I have to say I was impressed; I wasn't alone - he was honest and open. He made a lasting impression on me. The type of impression any political Opposition leave when on you when common sense and straight talking is applied.
Denham's lasting impression on me can be summed up simply in my own words -
No need to forget, no need to forgive - we must move on.