NEARLY a million small firms could run out of cash within the next four weeks as they struggle to access the government’s emergency coronavirus loans support, it has been claimed.

A report by the Corporate Finance Network of accountants predicts that almost a fifth – 18 per cent – of Britain’s five million small businesses will not be able to survive the next month.

That could mean nearly four million staff losing their jobs in May, it cautioned, adding that as many as 42 per cent of small firms could go bust if the lockdown lasts for four months or more.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak launched the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans (CBILs) with a pledge that “any good business in financial difficulty” would be able to access them on “attractive terms”.

But many businesses have been turned down or have struggled to get hold of their banks.

Garry Lee, chair of insolvency practitioners’ body R3’s southern & Thames Valley committee, said: “Clearly some details of the CIBLs scheme still need to be worked out amid business concerns over access to the finance available, lending criteria and timescales.

“Some approved lenders are applying their usual banking criteria when considering emergency loan applications and directors may be reluctant to sign personal guarantees or take on additional debt which could store up problems for later.”

Mr Lee, who is senior manager in the recovery and restructuring services department at accountancy and financial services firm Smith and Williamson’s Southampton office, added: “The chancellor promised to do ‘whatever it takes’ to support those businesses experiencing a cash flow crisis and to ensure staff are retained.

“Removing any barriers to accessing this finance must be encouraged where possible and we would urge any business in difficulty to seek professional advice immediately.

“Obtaining support from a qualified and trusted source as soon as possible will mean more options are available.”

Business secretary Alok Sharma said yesterday that it would be “unacceptable” for banks to refuse help for businesses after benefitting from a bailout in 2008.

He said the chancellor would announce more support for businesses shortly.