Richard Lambert, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) director-general, has put pressure on the government to act as a lender of last resort to companies struggling to obtain trade credit insurance.

“Another urgent claim for support from the public balance sheet arises from the growing difficulties now being experienced by many companies – especially small and medium-sized enterprises – in securing the trade credit insurance cover they need to go about their business,” he said.

“There is a strong case for the public sector to stand in as insurer of last resort, offering cover at commercial rates and subject to the normal prudential risks.”

Many SMEs are struggling to get credit insurance cover, making it harder for them to obtain loans.

Larger companies have also suffered, including DSG –which includes PC World and Currys – JJB Sports and, before it collapsed, Woolworths.