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Barclays launches £100,000 unsecured lending, as new research shows the value of faster finance to SMEs

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Barclays launches £100,000 unsecured lending, as new research shows the value of faster finance to SMEs
  • Tens of thousands of businesses could benefit immediately as Barclays doubles unsecured lending limit from £50,000 to £100,000
  • Nearly a quarter (23%) of business owners surveyed said they would create jobs if given a £100,000 loan
  • Being unable to access loans quickly enough means nearly one in five (18%) SMEs that have taken a bank loan have lost out

Barclays has today launched £100,000 unsecured lending – doubling its maximum for unsecured business loans for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) from £50,000 to £100,000.

The bank has also identified more than 40,000 SME clients, from dentists to manufacturers, that could be eligible for the higher levels of lending, which because it is unsecured could be in their accounts within days.

The move will help SMEs get faster access to finance and seize opportunities they might otherwise miss out on if lending decisions are not made quickly enough. It also means business owners will not have to use their business premises or home as security.

The expansion of unsecured lending adds to Barclays’ already class-leading unsecured lending offering, whereby 250,000 Barclays SME clients can see pre-assessed lending limits of up to £25,000 via mobile and online banking, which they can apply for digitally, often receiving the cash that day. It is more than 40,000 of these businesses that have been identified as eligible to apply for up to £100,000.

New research today also highlights the importance of access to finance. Barclays’ survey of more than 1,100 SME business owners shows just how vital speed is in today’s environment, with almost one in five (18%) of those surveyed that have used a bank loan (and 9% overall) saying they have lost out in the past because they could not get a loan or funding fast enough.

The research also found that over one in ten (11%) of surveyed business owners said they’d be more likely to apply for a loan if they could get a decision within 24 hours, while 16% of those that have used a bank loan (and 9% overall) said the time it takes to get a loan puts them off applying.

The respondents were also hesitant to offer their home as security, with almost half (47%) saying they would be deterred from taking a substantial loan out against their home, and nearly one in three (31%) saying they would rather pay a slightly higher interest rate than have to use their home as security.

Unsecured lending differs from lending where the loan is secured against assets such as a business premises or the owner’s home. It is far faster for firms as it does not require land or property valuations and other steps that slow the process down. Applicants for Barclays unsecured lending will typically be able to get a decision within 24 hours, and have the money in their account within five working days.

The additional lending could not just help individual companies, but also boost the wider economy. For example, nearly a quarter (23%) of business owners surveyed said that if they were given a £100,000 loan, they would hire more staff.

Ian Rand, Chief Executive of Barclays Business Banking, says: “Many people think taking a business loan is stressful, or are put off by the perceived bureaucracy and time involved. At Barclays, we are tackling this head-on, making small business lending faster, simpler and easier.

“Importantly, a business loan is a type of finance that can really transform a brilliant, hard-working company, allowing it to scale up and serve more people. Removing barriers to such investment is good for firms across the country, and for the economy.

“Furthermore, speed of access to finance can be vital in today’s environment. Business moves very fast, and firms can access larger opportunities at short notice thanks to digital communication.

“Unsecured lending can also be particularly useful for certain types of business. This includes nimble firms that achieve high growth rates without owning premises that would serve as security for a loan, or those led by young entrepreneurs who have a successful business but are yet to buy a home that could serve as security.”

Both the pre-assessed lending up to £25,000 and the expansion of unsecured lending can make taking a business loan easier – an important benefit for business owners. In the survey, more than one in ten respondents overall (13%), and approximately a quarter (24%) that have used a bank loan, said applying for a business loan is more stressful than getting married or buying a home.

In addition, Barclays is increasing the maximum unsecured overdraft for business lending from £25,000 to £50,000, helping firms take on larger projects or deal with unexpected increases in business, for example.

When Barclays asked SME business owners what they would do with £100,000 of business lending, the top five answers were:

  • Purchase new equipment or machinery: 34%
  • Improve or increase branding/marketing: 32%
  • Diversify the business (e.g. open in a new market; add a product/service): 31%
  • Hire more staff: 23%
  • Get new premises :14%

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Holiday bookings soar as Britons hope for travel restart

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Holiday bookings soar as Britons hope for travel restart 1

By Sarah Young

LONDON (Reuters) – International holiday bookings surged by as much as 600% after Britain laid out plans to gradually relax coronavirus restrictions, giving battered airlines and tour operators hope that a bumper summer could come to their rescue.

EasyJet said flight bookings from Britain jumped over 300% and holiday bookings surged by more than 600% week on week after the government indicated on Monday that travel could restart from mid-May, while holiday company TUI UK said that its holiday bookings surged 500%.

This summer is make-or-break for many airlines and holiday companies which are struggling to survive with close to a year of almost no revenue due to pandemic restrictions. Without it many will need extra funds after burning through cash reserves.

UK-listed travel stocks were buoyed after new bookings flooded in on Monday evening and Tuesday despite ongoing uncertainty over exactly how and when international routes can reopen.

Shares in easyJet jumped 9%, while British Airways-owner IAG traded up 6%, TUI and Jet2 both jumped 6% and Ryanair was 3% higher.

While British tourists are some of the biggest spenders in Europe, the presence of a more infectious variant of coronavirus in the UK could alarm some countries. France and Spain have shut their borders to most UK travellers due to variants.

UK holidaymakers will know more on April 12 when the government publishes a travel review. It has said that a lockdown ban on most international travel will stay until at least May 17.

That should give airlines time to plan their summer schedule, a process which takes months.

EasyJet said trips from the UK to beach destinations such as Malaga, Alicante and Palma in Spain, Faro in Portugal and Crete, Greece, were the most popular destinations with holidaymakers keenest to travel in August. July and September were the next most popular months.

TUI said destinations in Greece, Spain and Turkey were the most booked overnight, with people opting to go from July onwards.

Britain’s route back to normality is helped by rapid progress with its vaccine plan. Over 17.7 million people, or a quarter of the population, have already had a first dose of the jab. The government is also considering options for vaccine passports.

The airlines and travel companies hope such progress will mean that from May 17 the UK will end its holiday ban and remove a 10-day quarantine requirement, a big deterrent for holidaymakers, and some of its COVID-19 testing rules.

(Reporting by Sarah Young, Editing by Paul Sandle and Susan Fenton)

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Concern over rich-poor divide seen on the increase during pandemic

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Concern over rich-poor divide seen on the increase during pandemic 2

By Matthew Lavietes

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – People have become more concerned about the gap between rich and poor during the coronavirus pandemic, especially the young, the authors of a new global study said on Tuesday, urging governments to take steps to redress the balance.

More than 8,700 people in 24 nations were surveyed at the start and end of 2020 by the Glocalities market research agency, with the findings showing an increase in the share of respondents who thought income differences should be reduced.

As the coronavirus pummeled the global economy last year, the survey also found a 10-point rise in the percentage who said decent work and economic growth were the most important means of improving quality of life.

“It has slapped people in the face and made them realize that things are not going well,” Ronald Inglehart, one of the lead authors of the study, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, referring to the pandemic.

“We need government intervention on a larger scale. We don’t want a state-run economy, but some of the resources need to be reallocated to balance off this powerful trend.”

Policies that will create “good-paying jobs” in the fields of child care, environmental protection and infrastructure would help address mounting frustration over income inequality Inglehart added.

Young people are particularly concerned about income disparities, the study found.

A third of respondents aged between 18 and 34 said they were more concerned about income inequality than unemployment or economic growth at the end of 2020, up from 29% at the start of the year – before the coronavirus had spread around the world.

“Feelings of being upset, being afraid, feeling let down, feeling like ‘I have no prospective anymore’ are on the rise,” said Martijn Lampert, who also co-authored the study.

“So this requires very wise and just government interventions to channel this unrest in a positive way.”

Inglehart said he sees evidence of such sentiments among the students he teaches at the University of Michigan.

“The job market is dismal … My best students, the stars, they’re finding jobs at a lower level than they’re anticipating. And the ones who aren’t stars are getting nothing,” he said.

The global economy is seen shrinking 3.5% last year, according to the latest estimates by the International Monetary Fund, and numerous studies have shown how the global health crisis has exacerbated economic inequalities.

As a result of the pandemic, the number of people living in poverty has doubled to more than 500 million, according to a report issued last month by the charity Oxfam.

Meanwhile, the collective wealth of the world’s billionaires rose $3.9 trillion between March and December 2020 to reach $11.95 trillion, the report said.

(Reporting by Matthew Lavietes; Editing by Helen Popper; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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Boon or bane? Malaysian island reclamation plan divides residents

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Boon or bane? Malaysian island reclamation plan divides residents 3

By Rina Chandran

(Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The island of Penang on the northwest coast of Malaysia is known for its sandy beaches, the colourful wall murals of its capital Georgetown, and its fiery street food.

In time, it will also be known for three man-made islands that state authorities say are needed to provide housing and economic opportunities for an expanding population, while also generating funds for a modern transport network.

But the Penang South Reclamation (PSR) project, dubbed BiodiverCity, has pitted the government and businesses against fishermen and environmentalists who say it will wreck the lives of residents, and damage the coast.

“The area is rich in prawns and fish. If you build islands, what we will see is permanent environmental degradation,” said Mahadi Md Rodzi, chairman of the Penang Fishermen’s Association that represents about 6,000 fisherman.

“Fishermen have been told to upskill or get another job, but many of us are born fishermen and depend on the sea to live. The proposed compensation from the state is too insufficient for something that will affect our livelihoods forever,” he said.

Many fishermen have rejected the 20,000-ringitt ($4,950) compensation offered, as well as the Environmental Impact Assessment report, which conservationists say does not reflect the potential damage or propose adequate mitigation measures.

Authorities say BiodiverCity, which is a part of the Penang 2030 vision of improving liveability and sustainability, will be a “socially and economically inclusive development” with an emphasis on green spaces, clean energy and car-free transport.

The 4,500-acre (1,821 hectares) project comprising three lilypad-shaped islands will house about 15,000 people each, and use natural and recycled materials such as bamboo and timber for construction of homes and offices, according to the plan.

But the scale of the dredging and reclamation work over more than a decade will cause “massive and long-term environmental destruction”, said Evelyn Teh, an environmental researcher in Penang.

“Fifteen years of land reclamation is a long onslaught to any marine ecology and the fishery industry that depends on it. The reclaimed islands will bury existing fishing areas while deteriorating the surrounding marine water quality,” she said.

“Coastal communities who rely on the marine and coastal area for their livelihood will experience an irreversible negative impact,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

‘COLOSSAL MISAPPROPRIATION’

From Denmark to Singapore, planners have reclaimed land from the sea for decades for offices, apartments and tourism.

Cities and island states that are running out of space are reclaiming land, expanding vertically or going underground.

A United Nations-backed partnership is studying the prospect of floating cities that can help coastal cities at risk of flooding from worsening climate-change impacts.

In Asia, land reclamation has become a contentious issue, with Cambodia and Malaysia banning sand exports, while Jakarta has suspended its reclamation project, and a plan to build an artificial island in Hong Kong has drawn fierce criticism.

Malaysia has two other major reclamation projects underway: Melaka Gateway, a deep-sea-port and cruise terminal that is part of China’s massive Belt and Road infrastructure plan, and Forest City in Johor near Singapore, aimed at foreign investors.

Large-scale reclamation allows more flexibility in city planning, but also lets governments engage “more ambitiously and aggressively with the business of land-banking,” said Keng-Khoon Ng, a lecturer at UCSI University Kuala Lumpur.

“These island-making projects are designed to boost state coffers. They represent a colossal misappropriation of resources at a time of intensifying housing unaffordability and social injustice,” he said.

But the PSR is needed as Penang has “run out of land”, resulting in ad-hoc developments, fewer economic opportunities, and a shortage of affordable housing, said Eddie Chan, executive director of SRS Consortium, the project developer.

A quarter of residential units will be earmarked for affordable housing in the average price range of 350,000 ringgit, and a fishermen’s taskforce set up by the state government is addressing any social impacts, he said.

“With proper design and construction methods applied to dredging and reclamation, and pollution prevention and mitigation measures to minimise environmental impact, we are confident that reclamation can be done sustainably,” Chan said.

RADICAL RETHINK

The PSR project, designed by Copenhagen-based Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), is scheduled to break ground in March after approvals.

Reclamation has hugely benefited Penang, with parts of the Bayan Lepas industrial zone, as well as heritage clan jetties built on reclaimed land, said Joshua Woo, a former local councillor.

“There are fancy land reclamation projects for the wealthy, but there are also land reclamation projects for a city’s survival. PSR belongs to the latter group,” he said.

“The project will open up new economic opportunities and social spaces for us,” he added.

In fact, PSR is a “feasible solution” to address urgent environmental issues such as climate change and sea-level rises, said Farizan Darus, chief executive of government agency Penang Infrastructure Corporation that is overseeing the project.

“More than half of Penang island is hilly terrain, therefore the next best approach is land reclamation,” he said.

“Without strategic land, Penang’s growth will be stunted. Now is the best time to implement PSR to provide a much-needed economic boost to Penang, and prepare the state for the post-pandemic economy,” he added.

Meanwhile, an online petition by a local heritage advocate against the project, has garnered more than 115,000 signatures, while a group of residents have held several protests under the Penang Tolak Tambak (Penang Rejects Reclamation) banner.

In building PSR and using it to fund the 46-billion ringgit ($11.4 billion) transport network, the state is taking on a huge financial risk during an economic slowdown, and putting commercial interests above the environment and people, said Teh.

Particularly now, when the coronavirus pandemic has revealed deep-rooted inequalities in urbanisation, authorities should instead favour a “radical rethink on building back better”, she said, including low-carbon public transport networks.

“The government risks putting too much focus on a massively expensive and environmentally destructive project that will only benefit a small group of people at the expense of the wider population during an unprecedented economic crisis,” Teh said.

“Penang may be biting off more than it can chew.”

($1 = 4.03691 Malaysian ringgit)

(Reporting by Rina Chandran in Bangkok, with additional reporting by Beh Lih Yi in Kuala Lumpur; Editing by Astrid Zweynert. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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