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Just 27% of SMEs are aware of the Treasury/Bank of England credit easing effort, the Funding for Lending Scheme (Reuters)

Only one in five small to medium enterprises say billions of pounds worth of government and Bank of England credit easing initiatives, such as the Funding for Lending Scheme, would encourage them to apply for finance.

The SME Finance Monitor for the first quarter, compiled by researcher BDRC Continental, found that almost half of all smaller firms were not even aware of any schemes to improve the affordability and availability of finance.

However, awareness of FLS specifically was at a rate of 27% - the highest of any single initiative.

More than two thirds of SMEs - 76% - reported being happy non-seekers of finance in the first three months of 2013. This is up on the previous quarter and the highest ever level.

Those few firms who do want access to finance say they are deterred by the dire economic climate, which is contaminated by slowing global demand, government austerity and the eurozone crisis.

"In difficult economic times businesses are choosing to pay down debts rather than take on more borrowing," said a spokesman for financial sector lobbyist the British Bankers' Association (BBA).

"Many businesses who want a loan or overdraft do not approach their bank because they think they would be unsuccessful, yet three quarters of businesses who apply do receive the finance they need.

"This is why the banks are working hard to restore confidence through initiatives such as building a UK-wide network of business mentors; offering an independently-monitored appeals process for businesses whose applications have been declined; and working with alternative finance providers to open up access to different options.

"If you run a business with a good business plan and want funding, our message is apply to your bank. The UK's banks are making funds available and are currently offering some of the lowest interest rates in history. There should be no doubt that now is a good time for businesses to go and see their bank if they want to borrow."

Of those who apply for loans or overdrafts from the banks, the SME Finance Monitor found that 70% were successful.

"The Perception Gap between actual and imagined success rates continues to exist, and this gap might be narrowed if awareness of the current 70% overall success rate, and of the range of initiatives available to help SMEs, could be improved," said Shiona Davies, director at BDRC Continental.

FLS has made ripples in the consumer mortgage market where rates and deposit requirements have tumbled as a result of the initiative.

However, hopes that FLS would drive down borrowing costs for SMEs and increase their access to affordable finance have been dashed. Business lending in the three months to February tumbled by £4.8bn.

Chancellor George Osborne extended FLS in April to focus the scheme's incentives towards SME lending rather than mortgages.

Under FLS, banks are able to access discount loans from the BoE to a value linked to their stock lending to the real economy of consumers and SMEs. As a bank increases its lending to the real economy, so does the amount of cheap money it can grab from the BoE.

This was at a ratio of 1:1, so for every pound extra of lending a bank can borrow a pound at an advantageous rate, better than they can get in the inter-bank market.

However, the changes announced by the Treasury now mean that for every pound a bank increases its lending specifically to SMEs in 2014 it can access five times that in discount borrowing from the BoE. For the rest of 2013, this ratio is even better at 1:10.

FLS will also be extended to include non-bank lenders - such as invoice finance houses - owned by banking groups taking part in the scheme. This means the parent banking group will be able to count lending to SMEs by its non-bank arms in its total when calculating how much they can borrow at the cheap rate.

"The additional incentives for banks should accelerate activity in the small business financing market," said Matthew Fell, Confederation of British Industry (CBI) Director for Competitive Markets.