New BBB boss pledges help for lev­el­ling-up am­bi­tions

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Business - By Tom Rees

THE new boss of the Bri­tish Busi­ness Bank has vowed to help the Prime Min­is­ter’s lev­el­ling-up agenda by “dou­bling down” on its re­gional fund­ing drive.

Cather­ine Lewis La Torre, who be­came chief ex­ec­u­tive of the gov­ern­ment-owned de­vel­op­ment bank this month, said she wanted to take a “very fo­cused ap­proach to ad­dress­ing” fund­ing gaps across the coun­try.

“We know there are peren­nial mar­ket fail­ures in ac­cess to fi­nance across the UK; that’s a mar­ket gap we have been try­ing to ad­dress for many years,” she said. “Lon­don and the South East is gen­er­ally bet­ter served than the rest of the coun­try.”

Ms Lewis La Torre vowed to dou­ble down on the BBB’s lev­el­ling up fo­cus, which in­cludes re­gional funds and a re­gional an­gels pro­gramme, and to con­tinue scal­ing up the bank.

She also wants to use the BBB to help the UK be­come a “science su­per­power” by fo­cus­ing on the sec­tor.

The BBB played a key role in the eco­nomic re­sponse to Covid-19, be­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tor of the emer­gency state­backed loans handed to busi­nesses to en­sure they sur­vived the cri­sis. It is also be­hind the Fu­ture Fund, aimed at help­ing start-ups with con­vert­ible loans.

How­ever, many econ­o­mists fear that busi­nesses will be left with a debt over­hang they will strug­gle to re­pay, threat­en­ing to sup­press in­vest­ment in the re­cov­ery. The loan guar­an­tee schemes handed more than £50bn to busi­nesses. Small firms may need “be­spoke so­lu­tions”

‘We know there are mar­ket fail­ures in ac­cess to fi­nance across the UK. Lon­don is gen­er­ally bet­ter served’

and “hy­brid” debt and eq­uity res­cues as they grap­ple with a huge debt over­hang left be­hind by the cri­sis, Ms Lewis La Torre said.

Her com­ments came as its an­nual re­sults re­vealed the bank handed £8bn of fi­nance to al­most 100,000 firms in the last fi­nan­cial year, a 21pc rise.

More than 90pc of fi­nance sup­ported by the BBB was de­liv­ered by the smaller, non-tra­di­tional lenders.

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