THE Federation of Small Businesses has warned of the dangers of a high street bank monopoly over small firms seeking finance. Two years into the credit crunch, the FSB is warning that the bank mergers, recapitalisation and schemes targeted at the big banks to stimulate lending actually risk stifling choices of finance for small firms, leaving business owners with nowhere to turn if they are refused credit by the major high street lenders. With a quarter of small firms still struggling to access affordable finance, the FSB believes the power of the financial sector should be challenged to guarantee a fair service for small firms. The FSB suggests that struggling banks should not be sold off to other high street lenders, as this can stifle competition in the financial sector. It advises that alternative sources of finance should be provided locally. Regional Development Agencies should be restructured to offer loans, and Essex County Council's Bank of Essex model should be replicated around the UK. The Enterprise Finance Guarantee and funds already allocated from the European Investment Bank could also be offered via these routes. The FSB also proposes that the Post Office should be turned into Post Bank offering support for small firms by utilising the Post Office Network and operating either as a solely state-owned bank or as a mutual or trustee bank. Financial intermediaries, recently created by the Government, should be actively promoted to viable small businesses unable to access finance, according to the FSB. Malcolm Lyons, chairman of FSB Huntingdonshire, said: "As the anniversary of the credit crunch approaches, it is important to consider the impact of the banking crisis and what it means for future relationships with small businesses to avoid getting into a similar situation. "Despite Government bailouts and interest rates set at a record low, small firms are still finding it tough to access affordable loans and overdrafts from banks. "The FSB would like to see more alternative sources of finance provided locally such as through Regional Development Agencies, local councils or post offices. "This would increase the choice of finance on offer to business owners, enhancing their prospects of survival and helping them play their part in stimulating the economy and getting the UK out of recession and onto a steady recovery.