The head of the British Business Bank has intimated that their future loan support could be targeted on parts of the economy which have seen the biggest hit from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Bank has played a key role in the economic response to the pandemic, expanding its balance sheet from £8bn-worth of loans to around 100,000 firms to a figure closer to £85bn, with arrangements with around 1.6m SMEs.
And though the Bank is turning to the future, Chief Exec Catherine Lewis La Torre says the bank will continue to consider the impact of Covid-19 on the economy.
With reference to the startup loans programme which the Bank oversees, Lewis La Torre suggested there may be “certain types of businesses that on balance (where) we’d be more inclined to want to support because of the larger dislocations that you’ve had in those sectors.”
Though Lewis La Torre is clear that larger firms are likely to be part of wider Government support measures, the implication is that smaller firms in hospitality and aviation supply chains, for instance, may be in line for support from the Bank.
The Covid-19 response
Lewis La Torre suggested that despite the Bank’s role in the Covid recovery, the core mandate remains “really to work with smaller businesses.”
In an interview with City A.M., La Torre said “it’s hard to conclude that we didn’t operate in a very impactful way” at the height of the pandemic.
There has been criticism of the Bank’s response – particularly around banks, who they were working with, and their willingness to hand out loans. Whilst somewhat outside the Bank’s control, the Bank became the lightning rod for criticism.
“Of course we would have loved to have had more time to have done everything perfectly,” she reflects, but “we didn’t have the time. We decided with what we had, we would go with that, because the moment is know to deliver those things.
“I don’t think there’s any regrets on that front but I do hope that there will be more reflective time for us to think about what went well and what went less well.”
Ready for what comes
That means being fleet of foot. As we speak, we are hours away from the announcement that the full reopening of the UK economy would be delayed for a further four weeks.
But Lewis La Torre is optimistic that will not hurt the UK’s economy too much.
“I’m personally much less concerned about a delay to be cautious than thinking we should be bracing ourselves for an experience that was much more the case at the start of the pandemic.
“But that’s not to be complacent either. I think what we have to try to do is make sure that we have various tools of course in our toolkit that we can pull out in the right oder at the right time to face into the environment that we have in the economy.”