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Make Banks pay for discriminating

SPEECH: Nick Clegg

AT LAST, the Government has realised that banks are racist in their lending practices.

I could have told them that. In fact, I did ages ago.

In this very paper. I told every politician who would listen that what holds back black businesses in Britain is the inability to access lending through the banks.

It's okay if you're Indian; the bank manager sees the image of a businessman. But when a black entrepreneur walks through his door in a suit and tie, the manager sees a gangsta, a waste man, a loafer, a babyfather. He sees everything under the sun except for a potentially successful businessman.

Ask Levi Roots about the tribulation he and his Reggae Reggae Sauce partner had to go through trying to raise funding before he bit the bullet and took himself and his guitar on to BBC’s Dragons’ Den.

Remember, at the time he had orders for tens of thousands of his delicious jerk sauce and yet he couldn't find a bank to give him an overdraft so that he could buy thousands of bottles to put it in. And now look at him. He's a multi-millionaire in the space of just a few years.

Difficulties

I experienced difficulties with banks after co-founding my publishing company, The X Press. We were the hottest thing in publishing with our very first novel, Yardie, by Victor Headley. We had sold 12,000 copies on the street and had to keep pumping all the money we were making into printing another thousand copies, and another thousand copies, and another thousand copies.

We ended up selling 30,000 copies of the book. If we had been able to print in 10,000 batches instead of 1,000 batches, we would have made thousands more than we did. But we couldn't get a bank to let off a loan, even when we were being written about by the Washington Post and The New Yorker magazine.

That was 20 years ago. Has the situation changed? Not if you're black. You try to get a loan for even a prawn sandwich at any of the high street banks with that afro going on, and you'll see what I mean. You'll be regarded as a liability.

The fact is that black Britons trying to set up a business are four times more likely to be denied a loan by the bank manager as their white equivalents. Yet the Government are reluctant to use the words ‘institutional racism’.

In his Scarman lecture, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told Brixton that Westminster is aware that the banks are out of order, and that there is sufficient concern over lending policy for an urgent enquiry into the issue by the Government.

On the surface then, it seems that the Government is taking it seriously. Not because they have suddenly found love for black Britons, but because they cannot ask us to pay more taxes to bail out the banks when we are being discriminated against by those very institutions.

We have to make sure the Government know this cannot be another one of those enquiries where they make up noise and then let it all die down and it's swept under the carpet.

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