The boss of the Government-owned bank that helped funnel billions of pounds worth of loans to British companies said it went through a “gigantic shift” during the pandemic year.
Catherine Lewis La Torre told the PA news agency that the British Business Bank, which she leads, had an “important role” in the economic response to Covid-19.
Around £80 billion of emergency government-backed loans were paid out to UK businesses during the pandemic, with systems being put in place at speed when the country first started locking down.
Nealy 1.6 million businesses took Bounce Back Loans – small loans of up to £50,000 that were provided by high street lenders, but administered by the BBB.
The bank also looked after the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans (CBILS), which paid out to 109,877 businesses and the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loans (CLBILS).
It turned the BBB from an institution which was backing less than £10 billion of finance to UK companies, to a vital backbone of the economy, supporting 1.8 million businesses with over £88 billion of finance.
“I hope what comes through in the annual report is just what an incredible year it was. I think that’s best reflected in the numbers,” Ms La Torre said.
How much this actually helped the economy, and how businesses would have fared without the support will be impossible to say, but the BBB said the impact on many businesses was likely huge.
“While it is difficult to say exactly what would have happened in the absence of these schemes, it is reasonable to assume that without their support many more businesses may not have survived through the pandemic,” it said.
Alongside the Covid support schemes, the bank continues to help small businesses get loans and investments to grow, supporting £8.5 billion of finance to 95,000 companies.
Small companies now have up to a decade to pay back their Bounce Back Loan.
“We need to be very clear-sighted about how we manage this portfolio of Covid-era loans into the future. And even though these were all introduced in pace in response to the crisis the run-off of these loans – we have to have a 10 year plan for how we do that,” she said.
However the bank expects to “be over the hump” before the ten years is over.
She said the bank is planning for this going into the future, investing in its data analytics among other things.