Sheffield bank scrambles to expand as it pays out coronavirus loans to 1m businesses

The British Business Bank created 48 jobs in Sheffield as it launched four coronavirus loan schemes which paid out to more than 1m businesses.

Thursday, 26th November 2020, 1:57 pm

It now employs 175 in the city and new boss Catherine Lewis La Torre said she expected growth to continue, including ‘onboarding’ recruits remotely.

Since March it has set up schemes to help companies survive the pandemic include business interruption and bounce back loans.

In Sheffield, between them, they have paid out 7,704 loans worth £311m – a frightening insight into the scale of the crisis.

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Catherine Lewis La Torre, new chief executive of the British Business Bank.

Ms Lewis La Torre took over from Keith Morgan in September but has yet to visit the Sheffield office on West Street while chief executive because of lockdown.

She said: “I think the bank is one of the anchors of the North. I think it’s a powerful signal that Sheffield is a vibrant city with a business centre that should be supported and be a magnet not just for government capital put for the private sector too.”

Bounce back loans have been targeted by scammers partly because they require few checks and are ‘self-certified’.

The bank estimates it has stopped more than £1.1bn in fraudulent loans from being paid out nationally after rejecting 26,933 applications.

Catherine Lewis La Torre joined the bank in 2016 and was promoted to the top job in September.

Ms Lewis La Torre said: “We’ve had to accept an element of fraud because if they were too restrictive people wouldn’t have received the money quickly. We put a tremendous amount of time and energy in to work with other bodies to prevent it.”

No interest is due on bounce back loans for the first year.

The bank will gain an insight into whether companies are recovering when the first wave of repayments becomes due in May, she added.

Her priorities in the job include investing in science and tech hubs to drive the recovery, tackling ‘funding disparities’ by attracting more lenders into the regions and encouraging diversity ‘in all its forms’, whether in debt, equity or talent.

British Business Bank is based in Steel City House on West Street, Sheffield.

She added: “Our own agenda addressing regional finance pre-dates levelling up - but it is helpful.”

The bank was launched six years ago with £6bn from government to serve businesses that might have struggled to access lending on the High Street.

In Sheffield City Region it has put £150m into 2,406 businesses. Local success stories include smart sensor firm Tribosonics and tech company Azzure IT, which secured £2m.

But Ms Lewis La Torre said her top concern was the wellbeing and health of colleagues.

She added: “It’s been a period of tremendous strain. The bank’s been asked to step up and deliver, we’ve scaled dramatically over the last nine months and I want to ensure people are not overdoing it. Even though it’s virtually, keeping that level of interaction with staff is critical.”

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