Event

Event Transcript

1hr 29mins
18 November 2020

JON McLEOD:  Good evening and welcome to this Business Banking Resolution Service pre‑launch parliamentary briefing. I am Jon McLeod and I will be moderating tonight’s session. The BBRS is a new and independent service for larger SMEs with unresolved banking disputes. We are a voluntary scheme set up by seven leading banks and SME groups working together. From the new year we will be working to resolve both historical and current complaints using a full range of dispute resolution techniques. In doing so, our aim is to increase confidence in bank lending and to build trust in the system.

Over the next 45 minutes we will be hearing from Treasury and Business Ministers, from some of those involved in setting up the scheme and also from the Chair of the BBRS, Lewis Shand Smith.  As there is a big vote in Parliament tonight and this is a parliamentary briefing we shall be sharing the transcript of this event online afterwards at www.thebbrs.org, where you can find plenty of information about how we can help your constituents. I am going to turn first to Paul Scully MP, who is Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Labour Markets. Again because of parliamentary business, the Minister has kindly recorded his remarks earlier today, and here they are for you now.

PAUL SCULLY: It is a pleasure to welcome colleagues to this pre‑launch event for the Business Banking Resolution Service. Finance is an important tool for businesses which are looking to start up, scale up and grow. Whether it is the very first start‑up loan that helps a new entrepreneur open up for the first time, an equity investment that helps take innovative health tech from the research lab to the market, or a Series C funding round on the road to an IPO, finance can help dreams become a reality. Of course, during the pandemic we have seen the power of finance to help businesses weather the storm, with over £42.1 billion worth of bounce‑bank loans, £18.4 of CBILS loans and £875.8 million in Future Fund convertible loans issued to 15 November, supporting over 1.4 million SMEs. On top of that, lenders of all sizes have supported their customers with repayment holidays as well as clinics and business support to help them adjust their cash-flow forecasts and business plans.  SMEs account for over 99% of the business population. They employ three-fifths of the UK workforce. They are the bedrock of the UK economy and operate across all workplace sectors. As we have seen throughout this pandemic, SMEs stand out thanks to their ingenuity, adaptability and innovation.

So, as we look to our economic recovery, SMEs will inevitably be at the heart of that, as existing SMEs build back better, others adapt and pivot with their business plans and expand their services, and new entrepreneurs take those exciting first steps in starting a new business. The relationship between SMEs and their finance providers will continue to be one of the most important ones to drive their success. Finance providers have worked with SMEs to get through the disruption caused by the pandemic, and I have every faith that they will continue to do so as we enter our economic recovery.

While the vast majority of SME/lender relationships are strong, there will be times when, understandably, things do not run so smoothly. That is why the BBRS is launching at such an important time. I am grateful to the BBRS itself, as well as the lenders who will fund it, for establishing this new service. A new independent resolution service which is free to SMEs, is transparent in reaching its decisions and can scale based on demand will bolster SME confidence and encourage them to take up external finance. I am particularly heartened to hear that direct customers who took part in a pilot of the service over the summer all said that they would recommend the BBRS to others and that it offered hope in finding a resolution to their complaint.

For SMEs who have a complaint about their bank and feel they have exhausted their other options, I would encourage them to check to see if the BBRS can help. I hope that parliamentary colleagues will benefit from hearing more tonight about the BBRS, how it will work and what SMEs can expect, so that they can direct their constituents to the service. Thanks once again for inviting me to speak here today and I look forward to monitoring the progress of the BBRS after it launches.

JON McLEOD:  That was Paul Scully MP, Minister for Small Business, Consumers and the Labour Markets speaking earlier today. I am sure his ringing endorsement of the BBRS project will be warmly welcomed by those on our live panel to whom I am turning now. Joining me are Kevin Hollinrake, MP for Thirsk and Malton in beautiful North Yorkshire. Kevin is Chair of the All‑Parliamentary Group on Fair Business Banking.  I think it is fair that to say no group and no MP has done more to champion the cause of a fair deal for small businesses and Mr Hollinrake has been instrumental in bringing the BBRS to fruition.

Also with me is Samantha Barrass, chief executive of the BBRS. I shall be asking Samantha in a minute about some of the practical aspects of the service’s operations.
In Newcastle is Lucy Armstrong. Lucy’s day job is CEO of The Alchemists, which is a boutique consultancy focused on supporting fast‑growing entrepreneurial businesses. She is also a non‑executive director of the BBRS. In London, we have Stephen Pegge, who is managing director, commercial finance at the bank trade body UK Finance and also a non‑executive director of the BBRS. Finally, I am also joined by Alexandra Marks, who is a deputy High Court judge but also the Chief Adjudicator of the BBRS.

If I could turn to Samantha first and perhaps put this question: as we have heard from the Minister, you have already piloted the BBRS’s operation. What have you learned from that pilot exercise?

SAMANTHA BARRASS: A lot, Jon, but the following points for me are particularly important.  The first is that we are filling a very important gap in the provision of dispute resolution services for larger SMEs. Some of these disputes go back years. Some are very complicated. Others are contemporary and can also be very complicated. This service needs to be a bespoke operation and each case will receive individual time and attention from skilled and experienced people.

The second important point is that users need to trust the service. They need to feel listened to and understood. They need to have confidence in the independence, expertise and empathy of the BBRS.  That is why we have put so much time into getting the framework right and recruiting the right people.

Finally, we need to be able to deliver this bespoke empathetic service at volume. That is why, in addition to our own team, we are partnering with the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR). CEDR really understands the service that the BBRS needs to deliver. It is going to help us to scale up while white critically maintaining an individual experience for every user.

JON McLEOD: Thanks for that, Samantha. I wanted to ask you this supplementary question, which is: how will you make sure that the service is as easy as possible for larger SMEs to use?

SAMANTHA BARRASS:  There are three important pillars to this service which I think are going to make it easy to use. The first is the role of Customer Champions. The second is the bespoke case management system that we have put together. And finally, it is free. I will pick up each of those points in turn.

The Customer Champions are going to be a single point of contact for users of the service from beginning to end. They are not going to be involved in assessing the case or any of that part of the dispute resolution service. Instead, their focus is going to be providing skilled practical support to the business who is bringing the complaint, for example, in putting the case together, making sure that the relevant documentation is put together, making sure that vulnerabilities are properly assessed and that adjustments are made, and critically, making sure that users receive an individual service from beginning to end and they know what is going on at every point in time.

Second is the bespoke case management system. This system has been built to serve, and not dictate.  A lot of thought has been given to making sure that it is designed to underpin a service which will deal, obviously, with volume and large quantities of documentation but, critically, that it supports a service that leads with personal interactions rather than a system decision, a kind of “computer says yes or no” approach. Finally, the service is free. There is no fee for using the service. Users will not need to pay anyone at all to support them. One of the purposes of the role of the Customer Champion, who are part of the free service, is to ensure that users do not feel they need to employ third-party support.

JON McLEOD:  Thanks for that, Samantha. I think that last point will be particularly welcomed by parliamentarians who can feel confident that they can refer constituents’ businesses to the BBRS with confidence those constituents will be well supported. May I ask you this final question, Samantha? Looking to the future, how would you see the BBRS developing?

SAMANTHA BARRASS:  I think an important priority for the BBRS will be to expand the number of member banks because this will expand the number of SMEs who will know that in their relationship with their bank that they have got access to a free independent dispute resolution service.  The other priority is going to be to make sure that SMEs are aware of the service, they know it is there and that they are going to come to use it. That is why events such as the one this evening are so important.

JON McLEOD:  Samantha, thanks very much for that. I am now going to turn to Lucy Armstrong up in Newcastle, a person with a wealth of experience in the SME sector and in growing new enterprises. Lucy is non‑executive director of the BBRS and her day job is as CEO of The Alchemists, the specialist consultancy, as we were hearing earlier.

Lucy, good evening to you. I wonder whether I could start with this simple question: what should small businesses expect from the service?

LUCY ARMSTRONG:  To echo what Samantha has just said, what they should expect is a fair, speedy, open, simple‑to‑use mechanism for resolving concerns and disputes that they have with their bank. On the one hand, you have the large organisations, the banks, with a lot of resources and technical experts and on the other hand often entrepreneurs operating on their own. They are handling things like finance out of hours. They often do not have a lot of professional support around them. What the BBRS enables them to do is, I think, to cut through that disjoint between the two different cultures and the two different languages to enable some resolution to be arrived at if they feel they have been mistreated or mis-served in some way.

JON McLEOD:  Thanks for that, Lucy. We heard the Minister refer earlier to the idea that the existence of the BBRS could improve the climate of investment. What is your assessment of what the existence of the service would mean for confidence in SMEs approaching their banks to take on new funds, effectively to borrow to invest?  I wondered what you made of that idea.

LUCY ARMSTRONG:  That is the principal reason I agreed to participate in this exercise and to join the board. I have had the privilege of actually being involved in something very similar for similar SMEs but who use asset finance. I am not in the slightest bit interested in being a policeman and telling banks they have done wrong or telling entrepreneurs they have got it wrong. What I am really interested in those two groups having confidence and trust in one another (a) to want to invest in the business and (b) to want to fund the investment in the business, because that way we grow the UK economy and grow jobs for the UK economy, and boy, are we going to need that over the next few years. For me this is a bit like being ATOL (Air Travel Organiser’s Licence) protected on the travel front. When you buy a plane ticket you are confident that if something goes wrong you will be compensated. I want people to go into a relationship with their bank and I want the bank to go into a relationship with their customer both feeling confident that if it does not go well, if there are problems in their relationship, there is an opportunity to have an independent third party who is skilled and capable of helping those two resolve their differences. That should enable more businesses to want to invest, enable banks to want to back more entrepreneurs and, as I say, more jobs and more tax take for the UK economy.

JON McLEOD:  That is a very positive vision, Lucy. Finally, I just wanted to see whether you could advise an SME who feels they might need the service as to what they should do next. What is their next step if they think they might need the BBRS?

LUCY ARMSTRONG:  Number one, have they actually spoken to their bank and provider to start with, because you may find your relationship has not broken down and you are still able to talk. If you are not, come to the website. You can register interest now even though we have not quite launched and only had a number of pilots. Phone us up, talk to us, talk to the BBRS and we will help guide you through. We will help you understand whether you are eligible, how you can go about it, how you might be able to resolve it with your bank directly or how you might use our service. The key thing is go on the website and make contact with us.

JON McLEOD:  Lucy Armstrong in Newcastle, thank you very much indeed. I am now going to turn to Stephen Pegge, who is Managing Director, Commercial Finance at UK Finance, the bank trade body. Stephen is also a non‑executive director of the BBRS. Stephen, welcome. I wondered whether I could start with this question: what sort of role do you think the BBRS can play in restoring and rebuilding trust and confidence between SMEs and the banking sector?

STEPHEN PEGGE:  Evening, Jon. As a BBRS director, I think our primary role is to provide an excellent service to SMEs and banks in resolving disputes. But you are right to say there is a wider benefit from doing that well. It is valuable in its own right for participating banks but certainly, in terms of building trust, there is some role. What I would say is our aspiration must be that banks are consistently trustworthy and that, I think, can be supported through the feedback from situations which have led to disputes. Improvement continuously in service helps to ensure that we really are as an industry providing the support that SMEs need. Equally, where there is some feedback on examples where perhaps things have not gone wrong but are misunderstood, that level of transparency can really help as well.

Just as Lucy has said, confidence is important to ensure that businesses can make the right decisions, can invest in their businesses knowing that they have a banking partner who is looking to support them and that they have that fallback should thing go wrong to resolve disputes as they need it. For individuals knowing that they have that support will make a difference to the decisions, but more broadly, if there is transparency about the proceedings and reports on the broad shape of outcomes, I think that can provide support to the whole market. The research suggests at the moment that the biggest barrier is economic uncertainty rather than access to finance per se but when you are considering investing, if you have the confidence that you have a banking partner who will support you flexibly through different scenarios, I think that recovery can be secured.

JON McLEOD:  Thanks, Stephen. I am conscious that the BBRS is part of a much wider landscape for UK Finance and for initiatives that banks are taking to place emphasis on culture, values and building standards. How do you see BBRS fitting into that wider landscape and could you tell us a bit more about the other efforts that are being undertaken?

STEPHEN PEGGE:  Last year the Standards of Lending Practice were extended to cover larger SMEs including the cohort that BBRS is focused on. It is very much in line with that and will reference that as one of its key bases for decisions. It also complements the extended remit of the Financial Ombudsman Service, which previously was very much focused at the very micro end of the business segment.

Clearly, this year has been very much geared towards helping businesses through the disruption of Covid, and the Minister has already talked about the amount of lending that has been provided. Next year it is going to be even more important to support businesses with recovery. This size of business at the slightly larger end of SMEs is a real driver of growth and recovery, we know, and an important part of supply chains. Many of them will have to adjust what we are doing because we are probably not going back to the situation we were in beforehand. We are working with government and other stakeholders and SME representatives such as Lucy to make sure that the next design of support really supports that.

It is important that it is inclusive as well. I am on the Rose review looking at how we can encourage and support female entrepreneurs. We are currently working with the All‑Party Group for BAME Entrepreneurs as well so that we are able to unlock all the opportunities for all the talent. Finally, and I know this is close to Kevin’s heart with the all‑party group, there is a key role for SMEs to play in the transition to zero carbon and inclusion of all the communities across the country. That has been a big part of our work this year.

JON McLEOD:  Stephen, thanks. I have one final quick question and that is to ask what your message to other banks who might consider joining the scheme would be?

STEPHEN PEGGE:  We have had seven banks which together represent the majority of lending, that is for sure, but this is a very broad and diverse market, and conversations are already going on with others who are keen to join later on. Frankly, we have to be grateful to the “magnificent seven”, as I sometimes call them, for all the work that it has taken to get to the point we have reached now. But this service will be one that I think will enable them to sustain their relationships with existing customers. It will give new customers confidence in the service that they can expect. The feedback will help them improve their competitive position. I think the more who choose to join, and Sam touched on this earlier, the better the whole thing works because we will have more coverage and more confidence across the sector.

JON McLEOD:  Stephen Pegge of UK Finance and BBRS non‑executive director, thank you very much. I am now going to turn to Alexandra Marks, who is the Chief Adjudicator of the BBRS as well as being a deputy High Court judge. She is at the centre of the new service in terms of its decision making. We heard earlier from Samantha Barrass, the BBRS’s CEO, Alexandra, that alternative dispute resolution (ADR) will be at the centre of what BBRS does. How will the BBRS bring to bear the full range of different ADR tools to bear in seeking to resolve cases that are brought to it?

ALEXANDRA MARKS:  Well, Jon, I believe that, uniquely for schemes of this type, the BBRS will have available a whole range of alternative dispute resolution techniques, ranging from mediation to conciliation, and of course our default method, which is investigative adjudication. As the name suggests, that is where we will investigate the complaint ourselves and then decide or adjudicate on the fair and reasonable outcome. But those other techniques that I mentioned we can choose to deploy, with of course the parties’ agreement, at any time, and we very much hope that we will be able to do that. I personally am a great fan of mediation having seen first-hand how powerful a tool it is in achieving excellent outcomes for parties. It is quick and it is flexible and, crucially, the parties play an enormous part in shaping the outcome. As you said, Jon, I am a judge. I sit as a judge and have been doing that for 17 years, and I must say that I know from experience that the mythical day in court is not always what it is cracked up to be.

JON McLEOD:  Thanks for that, Alexandra. You made reference there to the term “fair and reasonable”, which would be the basis of BBRS’s decision making. What exactly do we mean by fair and reasonable in this case?

ALEXANDRA MARKS:  Jon, fair and reasonable is not so much a definition as an approach. We will listen to the parties, crucially, as Sam has already mentioned. We will gather the evidence and we will then apply the law to assess what has happened, more likely than not, and if something has gone wrong.  And if it has, it is our role to work out whether compensation is fairly payable. Then if it is, we will assess that itself on a fair and reasonable basis. Fair and reasonable is the golden thread that runs through everything we do.

Very important to achieving these fair and reasonable outcomes and providing this service are three particular features. I just draw attention to one that Sam has already mentioned, our Customer Champions, who are there to guide, support and assist the customer all the way through their process with the BBRS. And secondly, evidence that we obtain from the parties will be shared so they will both see what has been produced by the other. Finally, and I think this again is a crucial feature of our scheme, both parties will see the decision in provisional form and be able to comment on it before it is made formal.

JON McLEOD:  Thanks, Alexandra. Finally and briefly, independence is something that I referred to in the introductions. How will the independence of the BBRS be assured once it is up and running?

ALEXANDRA MARKS:  As Chief Adjudicator, it is of course absolutely crucial that I am independent in my decision making, quite apart from the other features of independence which as a  board director of BBRS I am concerned about. Our rules and our constitution expressly guarantee my independence in a variety of ways: in exercising my discretion, exercising my judgment, and crucially, of course, I am independent not only of the parties and our stakeholders but even our own board. Of course, I will not be making all the decisions myself. I will be delegating some decision making to our excellent experienced and skilled case assessors, but I will naturally be retaining oversight and overall responsibility. A year to the day after I joined the BBRS, I am really looking forward to getting started and dealing with real cases and real parties and delivering fair and reasonable outcomes for them.

JON McLEOD:  Alexandra Marks, Chief Adjudicator, happy anniversary, and thank you very much indeed. I am now going to turn to Kevin Hollinrake MP, also here with us in London. Kevin is the MP for Thirsk and Malton, and, in this context, also chair of the All‑Party Parliamentary Group on Fair Business Banking, which has been so instrumental to getting the BBRS off the ground. Kevin, may I start by asking you to tell us a little bit about what was involved in getting us to where we are today?

KEVIN HOLLINRAKE:  Thank you, Jon, and thank you for your very kind words earlier. It has been years of work, more than ten years for some people. Do not get me wrong, most businesses have a good relationship with their bank, but when things go wrong they tend to go very badly wrong, and we have to make sure that everybody is treated fairly in this process. The clue is in the title, I suppose: the All‑Party Parliamentary Group on Fair Business Banking. We want to be fair to both sides. The banks are a crucial part of our economic system. We are delighted to get to this point. It is a historic moment. Going forward businesses with a turnover of up to £10 million will have access to free dispute resolution and £6.5 million for previous problems. That means lots of people will get access to justice who would not have had that in the past.

In answer to your key question, I pay tribute to people who pre‑date me, chairs of the all‑party group, Heather Buchanan, or Director of Policy and Strategy, the SME Alliance and many other campaigners who have sought to bring fairness to the system. I think the biggest benefit of this system will be the deterrent effect. There has been this imbalance of power clearly between banks and businesses.  Now we are trying to mitigate the worst elements of human behaviour which come in from time to time. Because there is now the deterrent to prevent bad behaviour, I think that will stop these problems happening in the first place, which will be welcome for so many people. I would urge anybody out there with a complaint, a problem with their bank, as Lucy said, to go to your bank first but then go to this scheme. It really will be something that will bring about a huge cultural shift in our business/bank relationships.

JON McLEOD:  Thanks, Kevin. It has been a long journey but of course, this is just the start. I guess what I am interested to hear from you now is a little bit about how you plan to engage with the initiative in the future once it is up and running and what role the group will play in keeping an eye on progress.

KEVIN HOLLINRAKE:  The public eye and the press are very important, but Parliament plays a really important role in that, and has played a very important role in getting to this point. We have had dozens of debates since the time that I have been in Parliament or involved with the all‑party group, bringing these issues to light, challenging misbehaviour where we see it, and highlighting these cases.  Parliamentary privilege means we can bring these issues to light in a way you probably cannot do in many other areas. We will continue to do that. We will make sure that with the scrutiny of the organisation, and I have every faith in Samantha and Alexandra and Lewis and everybody in the team at BBRS, but we will definitely be there on the floor of the House raising issues where we see them, making sure that we hold the banks and the BBRS to account. It has got a big job to do. Some people are sceptical out there, there is no doubt about it, but I have every confidence in the people within it.  The key part of any organisation is the leadership and I think the BBRS will bring a complete step change to the business/bank relationship.

JON McLEOD:  Kevin, thanks for that. One quick last question, if I may, which is to ask you to set out what your aspirations are for the BBRS as it approaches this launch moment. I would be keen to hear that.

KEVIN HOLLINRAKE:  The most important thing is that people present their cases to the BBRS. Yes, by all means, go to your bank first and try to resolve the issue, but the banks might have a better approach to resolving disputes themselves in the future because they will know if they do not it will go to the BBRS. Hopefully, fewer cases might go there than some people might expect. Nevertheless, you have to use the system. I would say to any parliamentarian who is listening to this, or any person with a problem with their bank, go to the service, use the service and register with the service. The proof of the pudding, of course, is always in the tasting, so the more people who apply to use the service the better. It is great to see the fantastic results of the pilot scheme and the high proportion of people who recommend the service. That is what we want to see ongoing. As I say, it is our job as parliamentarians to make sure that is the case.

JON McLEOD:  Kevin Hollinrake MP, Member for Thirsk and Malton and also chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fair Business Banking, thank you very much indeed. Thanks to everyone on the panel. We are now turning to our final two speakers. I would like to start with Lewis Shand Smith whom you have heard already reference made to. He is the Chair of the BBRS. He is joining us from sunny Shetland. I will hand over to you in a second to set out your vision for the BBRS, after which I will ask you to hand back to me so I can introduce our final speaker. To start with, Lewis, over to you in Lerwick.

LEWIS SHAND SMITH:  Thank you very much, Jon. I am not so sure about sunny Shetland. I have just been told we are expecting 40 mph winds and rain, so not so comfortable. First of all, I would like to give my thanks to everyone who has participated this evening, to Paul Scully, to the panellists and, in anticipation, to John Glen. It has taken us a long time to get to this point. We have given painstaking attention to the details and we are determined to get it right. Most importantly from me is that we are faithful to our original vision for the BBRS. That vision is really quite simple. It is to provide a mechanism for considering and resolving claims of historical injustice and to provide reassurance for the future that larger SMEs have someone to turn to when things go wrong without having the expense and risk of going to litigation. We shall operate in a way that is demonstrably independent, resolving disputes impartially and proportionately, and on a basis of what is fair and reasonable in the particular circumstances of each case.

Of course, sitting between the banks on one hand and the SMEs on the other is never going to be easy or comfortable. Some of our findings will not make good reading for the banks. On the other hand, it is inevitable that we will not find in favour of every business that has a complaint. But it will be simple, accessible, free and bespoke to the needs of each person using our service. As Sam has said, we will not have a “computer says no” approach. Instead, the Consumer Champion assigned to each case will guide and support bank customers every step of the way. As Alexandra has said, it is important to remember not just about that default in adjudicating cases. We are here to promote resolution using the full suite of dispute resolution tools at our disposal. Our focus will be on resolving cases as early as possible. Where there is the possibility of settlement, or of using mediation, we will promote that provided it meets the needs of all parties and is consistent with securing a fair and reasonable outcome.

To the parliamentarians and their teams joining us today, we encourage you to consider our service when approached by constituents: those who have disputes with one of the participating banks and who may be eligible. We are here to help and give early advice and we will be on hand to signpost and support you and your constituents. I am going to take this opportunity to say thank you to the SME groups who have committed so much time and energy in getting us to this stage, the APPG on Fair Business Banking (and Kevin has certainly been a Jiminy Cricket sitting on our shoulders, and I know he will continue to be like that) the Federation of Small Businesses, the SME Alliance, British Chambers of Commerce, the Institute of Directors, the CBI, together with Lucy Armstrong and Dame Teresa Graham. Their input has been critical to our success, as has the support of UK Finance. My thanks also to the banks – and it is the first time I have heard them described as the “magnificent seven”, but I am sure that is going to stick Stephen – and to the representatives of the banks for their commitment to our public interest mission. In doing so, they have recognised the problems in the past that need to be addressed and also the need to ensure that there is a way of resolving disputes that we may face in the future. As has been said so often, we are entering very difficult economic times, and we take our role very seriously and the contribution that we might be able to make.

Thank you to our secretariat and our legal advisers EY Law, and the other technical and legal advisers to what has been a very complex project, and especially to Tim Rooke, the EY partner who has so skillfully guided us throughout. I am singling Tim out because, as some of you will know, he was involved in a horrendous cycling accident the weekend before last. He has remained unconscious since then and is in the ITU of St George’s neurological department. Our prayers are with him and with his family.

Finally, thank you to our board and officers who stand ready to take us forward. The BBRS will go live very early in 2021. We are fully recruited, our IT systems are tested ready to go and we have work to do. As soon as the banks have completed their important governance steps, and I know that will happen as quickly as possible now, we will start to handle cases and deliver resolutions in earnest. In doing so, I hope we will make a small contribution to improving the climate for investment by increasing the confidence of SMEs to borrow and help us to grow out of the current crisis. I also hope it will go some small way to promoting trust and confidence between the banks and the SME sector.

Thank you all for joining us. I am going to hand back to Jon who will introduce John Glen for his closing remarks.

JON McLEOD:  Thank you, Lewis. As Lewis said, our last speaker this evening is Jon Glen, MP for the beautiful city of Salisbury, and Economic Secretary to the Treasury. Given today’s parliamentary proceedings, the Minister wisely recorded his closing remarks yesterday and we can hear them and see him right now.

JOHN GLEN:  Thank you very much for inviting me to speak today. I am very sorry that due to my pressing diary commitments that I cannot join you in person. But I am very glad that my fellow parliamentarians who are with you are taking the opportunity to learn more about the Business Banking Resolution Service. I am absolutely delighted that all the hard work that I know has gone into developing this valuable initiative is now yielding results.

This is a really important project because small and medium‑sized businesses are the engine room of our economy. They generate jobs, they drive growth and they spark innovation. In short, when SMEs thrive so does the rest of the UK. Of course, the Government have a role to play in ensuring this brilliant sector can reach its full potential. I will talk briefly about what we are doing on that front later. But there is no doubt that a strong and trusting relationship with banks is also essential if businesses are to flourish. At a time like this, when firms are facing unprecedented economic pressures, that trust is more important than ever.

I think we would all acknowledge that in the past the relationship between banks and smaller businesses has not worked out as it should, but during the almost three years I have spent as City Minister I have seen first-hand how hard banks and financial firms have been working to rebuild that relationship and the trust that goes with it. The past months have been a case in point. Right through the pandemic, we have seen the banking sector support small businesses by swiftly and efficiently issuing the Government’s financial support that has helped many firms stay afloat. The Business Banking Resolution Service, which has been set up independently by lenders and business representative groups, is another step in that journey of renewal. In the most immediate term, it will provide a way of finally resolving long-running disputes, while over the years ahead this new scheme which supplements the Financial Ombudsman Service will help instil greater confidence between businesses and lenders. I believe that this additional sense of certainty will ultimately benefit the wider economy by making sure small businesses do not hesitate to seek the help they need to grow and create jobs.

For our part, let me add that the Government are determined to help smaller businesses succeed, and that is why we are offering unprecedented levels of support through this crisis. So far with the help of the banks, we have issued £42 billion of bounce-back loans to smaller firms and £18 billion through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, while we have provided over £770 million of convertible loans through the Future Fund. On top of that, we have offered grants to businesses, tax deferrals and a furlough scheme that has helped one million firms pay their workers’ wages.

Our support of businesses stretches beyond this pandemic. We want to make the UK one of the best places in the world to build a business, which is why six years ago we set up the British Business Bank, to help SMEs get the funding they need for every stage of their development. So far it has provided finance for over 100,000 firms around the country. I am very confident that the Business Banking Resolution Service will succeed in providing another layer of support for the UK’s smaller businesses and, with it, the wider economy.

I greatly look forward to this service being up and running. I would like to end by saying a big thank you to Lewis Shand Smith, Samantha Barrass. Alexandra Marks, and the BBRS team for all their work so far, and to the scheme’s seven founder banks for stepping up to the plate. And I hope that very soon we will see other financial providers joining the BBRS because there is no doubt that by supporting small businesses today it will make a big difference to our economy tomorrow. Thank you very much indeed.

JON McLEOD:  That was Jon Glen MP, Economic Secretary to the Treasury. The BBRS would like to thank both Ministers and Kevin Hollinrake MP for their contributions this evening. I would also like to thank all the panellists for their participation and their contributions to the discussion and, in doing so, I would like to wish you all a very good evening indeed. Goodbye.

-Ends-