Italian banks took around a quarter of the three-year funds offered by the European Central Bank but the wall of cash failed to persuade them to lend more readily to firms and households in the early part of 2012, data showed on Friday. The country’s lenders scooped up 116 billion euros ($151.5 billion) from the ECB’s long-term refinancing operation in December and another 139 billion euros from the one in February, the Bank of Italy figures showed. In all, European banks took more than 1 trillion euros in the two three-year tenders, which were credited with calming euro zone debt markets. They helped Italian banks cope with frozen wholesale funding markets and a crippled interbank market at a time when the country has hovered close to the sharp end of the euro zone debt crisis. But up to February the impact on domestic credit flows was negligible. Growth in bank lending to non-financial companies slowed in February for the fifth month in a row to 0.9 per cent from 1.4 per cent in January, the Bank of Italy also said. The overall growth pace for lending to the private sector -including non-financials and households -declined to 1.3 per cent from 1.7 per cent. However, savings rates picked up modestly, with private sector deposits with Italian banks rising 0.5 per cent after four straight months of declines. In January the fall was 0.7 per cent. In March, overall funding from the ECB to Italian banks rose to 270 billion euros from 195 billion a month earlier.