Alan says it's the banks, not the multiples, that are the big new threat to our sector

Challenge the charges your bank is making on your business. That's the message from store owners who say that what the giant multiples have failed to do, the banks are doing their best to achieve. That is, put the independent sector out of business.

A Kent retailer called me to say his bank had been taking the mickey for 20 years. He discovered this when Barclays made a random telesales call and gave him a quote which has reduced his bank charges by 50%! Astonishing in the current climate, and proof you should shop around.

Businesses are paying cash-handling costs of four or five times more than they were pre-recession, and a doubling of charges is a common experience imposed by the same banks which brought us to this sorry state.

Loan conditions are gruesome 3% over bank rate is the norm, sometimes more. Try shopping around and, surprise, surprise, there is a large amount of agreement between the banks about interest charges which is, of course, a coincidence. An overdraft extension? Forget it.

A bank employee told me that the government's criticism of the banks and the plea to open the tills and lend is unwarranted. The fact is, he said, that small businesses are not asking for loans. On these terms, who would be? It is not uncommon now for relatives or friends to help out with investment resource.

When an independent with a big store asked me if I really wanted a receipt after I presented £8-worth of goods on his counter, it set me thinking. I later discovered he had trouble at the bank, as his paperless transactions suggested.

However, the fallout from under-investment will certainly drift like volcanic ash on to suppliers and wholesalers. Do terms need a rethink? Calling Vince Cable... this one's for you.

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