Britain's six largest banks will start a $2.4 billion fund to help small companies get financing after the government threatened to curb bonuses unless banks boost lending.

HSBC Holdings PLC, Barclays PLC, Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC, Lloyds Banking Group PLC, Standard Chartered PLC and Banco Santander SA's U.K. unit will contribute to the fund "over a number of years," according to a report published Wednesday. Other measures are planned to improve customer relationships and increase transparency.

Creation of the fund comes in the face of pressure from business lobbies and politicians urging banks to expand lending after accepting more than $1.4 trillion in bailouts and guarantees during the financial crisis. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said last week that he would block the payment of large bonuses unless banks show they are extending credit to households and companies.

"This won't touch the real needs of small businesses," said Stephen Alambritis, a spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses, which represents 215,000 entrepreneurs. "It is a drop in the ocean compared to what small businesses need from the banks."

The U.K.'s largest lenders may pay $9.7 billion in bonuses to employees this year, the Centre for Economics and Business Research Ltd. has said.

The banks will let companies seeking to reorganize debts have a "dialogue" with their lenders 12 months before the scheduled date of refinancing. They will take equity stakes in companies, typically of 10%, over five years.

"We have been absolutely clear that banks need to improve the lending environment for small businesses," Osborne and Business Secretary Vince Cable said Wednesday in a joint statement. "This is an important first step, and we welcome it. It is important that the banks now deliver on these plans."

A Bank of England report last month showed that British lenders increased the availability of credit to small companies in the third quarter. A net 7.8% of respondents to the central bank's credit conditions survey said the availability of corporate credit improved during the period. It was the seventh consecutive quarterly increase.

The British Bankers' Association and the lenders did not ask the government to contribute to the fund, according to Lesley Mcleod, a spokeswoman for the association. "It is up to the government if they wish to participate," she said. "We haven't asked for any money from the government."

The banks will also create a "transparent and independently monitored" appeals process for customers denied credit, according to the report. A "business finance roundtable" will be set up with business groups to discuss the plans' progress.

"We hope the measures in this report will help rebuild trust between banks and business stakeholders," the report said.

"We look forward to a new process of active engagement so we can work constructively together to help get the U.K. economy growing again," it said.

The fund will "make a helpful contribution to the financing of small companies," said Matthew Fell, the Confederation of British Industry's director of competitive markets. "Banks have a big job to rebuild effective relationships with companies."

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