Mark Kenyon: The lack of credit - and how to cope

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Whatever the prognosis for the wider economy, the current climate and trading conditions for many companies in this sector remains something many may...

Whatever the prognosis for the wider economy, the current climate and trading conditions for many companies in this sector remains something many may never have experienced before.

Casualties are still being seen with the greatest uncertainty looming as to where and when unemployment figures will peak, before the economy turns.

The true trickle-down effects of the renewed government policy regarding quantative easing have yet to be seen. Everyone wants to believe it will make a massive difference and people are keeping their fingers crossed at the macro level.

Support for the licensed trade sector, however, was in short supply in the recent Budget.

Nobody was surprised at the rise in taxes affecting the industry and some companies and individual landlords will feel very little support, if any, is being provided.

But even though the lobbyists weren't successful they must keep trying, as there are still a huge number of fantastic, thriving British pubs up and down the country which, despite present trading conditions, are seeing great footfall and people wanting to go out.

At Barclays Commercial Bank we are not just focusing on lending to and supporting the larger operators in the sector, but supporting small businesses when it is viable to do so.

Our customers are judged on their individual business merits when assessing the risk as well as how that business is impacted by the wider economy and sector specific issues.

Most recently we have worked on a variety of deals including financing acquisitions, assistance with working capital and in one case help for a tenant to enable him to buy a lease for a pub and assist with working capital requirements. We are supporting pubs that are at the heart of their local communities across the country.

Speaking at our recent AGM, Barclays Group chief executive John Varley reaffirmed the bank's commitment to getting credit to customers. He maintains that activity by households and businesses will help restore sustainable growth to the UK economy and so it is a good time to lend, in circumstances where the commercial and risk terms make sense to both Barclays customers and our shareholders.

We also announced our intention to increase lending to our UK business customers by £5.5bn in 2009.

Something that has fast become a sector-wide feature of this challenging new business environment, however, is suppliers to the industry cutting credit lines and shortening terms of trade, which has a huge impact on a business's cashflow.

I have heard of a 45-day credit term being cut to just 14 days and this was a big drinks supplier. Suppliers will have the horror stories and ledgers to back up their actions, but what is the best way to deal with this increasing trend?

First: be aware that you are not being singled out for special treatment - credit control teams everywhere are now directing their energies in the single-minded pursuit of getting their debtor days down.

Second: communication is key, as is negotiating in order to agree a mutually beneficial way forward so the relationship is not damaged and the supply isn't cut or disrupted.

Third: whatever terms are agreed, make sure they are realistic and achievable and then respect and abide by them rigidly. Don't give the suppliers cause to stop or break the agreement.

The most obvious answer would appear to be to switch the supply, but new suppliers will be cautious, quality issues will be a question and management time and energy in setting up the new arrangements could be better used in other areas.

The silver lining in all of this is that if a business can reduce its creditor days then the call for cash diminishes and the business will become more stable. So press on and good luck with the negotiations.

I have said it before and continue to do so: remember, cash is King.

Mark Kenyon is head of licensed trade, Barclays Commercial Bank

Related topics: Other operators

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