Event Transcript

15 December 2020

KEN BISHOP:  Good afternoon. Welcome to the Business Banking Resolution Service’s Northern Ireland pre‑launch briefing webinar. My name is Ken Bishop and I am the Head of the Secretariat for the Northern Ireland Assembly All-Party Group on Fair Banking and Finance. I will be the moderator for this event. Today’s short briefing will offer an informed overview of the work and the value of the BBRS. It will also help SMEs and MLAs understand just before the official launch of the BBRS service after Christmas in the new year.

The format of today’s event will be a panel discussion, followed by closing remarks by Lewis Shand Smith, Chair of the BBRS, and also the Rt Hon Brandon Lewis MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Today’s session will hopefully run for about 45 minutes.

I would like, first of all, to introduce you to today’s panel. We have Samantha Barrass, who is the CEO of the BBRS, Kevin Hollinrake MP, Chair of the APPG on Fair Business Banking, Roger Pollen, the Federation of Small Businesses’ spokesperson for Northern Ireland, Pat Catney MLA, Chair of the APG on Banking and Finance, and Paul Leonard, who is the non‑executive Chairman of UK Finance’s NI Committee.

May I open the panel discussion by turning to Samantha Barrass, Chief Executive, for some opening remarks?

SAMANTHA BARRASS: Thank you, Ken. The first remark I would like to make as CEO of the BBRS is on what have I learned from that over the last 12 months or so. I think the following points are particularly important. The first is that we are filling a very important gap in the provision of dispute resolution for larger SMEs. Some of these disputes go back years and are very complicated.  Others are more contemporary and can also be 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 really 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.

The third is that we need 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 Regulation (CEDR). CEDR understands the service the BBRS needs to deliver and will help us to scale up whilst maintaining an individual experience for every user.

The second point I would like to make is what are we going to do to make the service easy to use, because that is really important. It will be really important for SMEs who have quite complicated long-standing disputes. I think there are three important aspects that are going to make this service easy to use. The first is the role of what we are calling Customer Champions. They are going to be single points of contact for users of the service from beginning to end. They are not going to be involved in assessing the case. That will be done by the Case Assessors. Instead they are going to be providing skilled practical support to the user bringing the complaint, for example, in putting the case together and ensuring that any vulnerabilities are properly assessed and adjustments are made.  They will be ensuring that users receive an individual service and know what is happening at every single point in time.

The second aspect of the service that is going to make it easy to use is the bespoke case management system. This will not involve a single algorithm. It has been built to serve and not dictate. A lot of thought has gone into ensuring that this system is good with volume and large quantities of documentation and is secure. Always the imperative will be that the service is going to lead with personal interactions.

Finally, it is free. There will be no fee for using the using the service and users will not need to pay anyone to support them. The role played by Customer Champions, who are part of the free service, is really meant to mean that users will not need to pay for any third party support.

Another question that is distinct for the BBRS is: what is going to be the full range of alternative dispute resolution tools that we are going to be looking to use in resolving the cases? I think this is a really unique aspect of the BBRS scheme. We are going to have a whole range of techniques, ranging from mediation to conciliation, as well as our default method which will be investigative adjudication. As the name suggests, we are going to investigate the complaint ourselves and then decide or adjudicate on what is a fair and reasonable outcome but importantly, with the parties’ agreement, we can choose to deploy (and will seek to look to do this) other ADR tools that I mentioned and will want to bring them to use at any time. Indeed, we very much hope we are going to be able to do that. Alexandra Marks, our Chief Adjudicator, is a great fan of mediation. She has a lot of experience with it. It is a powerful tool and can be incredibly helpful in achieving really good outcomes for parties. It is quick and flexible, and, critically, parties can play an enormous part in shaping the outcome which we believe is a very important part of achieving a lasting feeling of resolution to the disputes.

I think another point to touch on is what we mean by “fair and reasonable”. For anyone who looks to Google for the definition of fair and reasonable, they will find it is not so much a definition as an approach. Critically, fair and reasonable means we are going to listen to the parties, gather evidence and assess what more likely than not has happened and, if so, if something has gone wrong. If it has, our role is going to be to work out whether compensation is fairly payable. If it is, we are going to assess what level is fair and reasonable based on all the circumstances of the case. I think it is fair to say, and Alexandra Marks, our Chief Adjudicator, is very strong on this, it is the golden thread that runs through everything that we do.

KEN BISHOP:  Sam, thank you for that. I will perhaps ask you two short questions. As Chief Executive you have already piloted the BBRS operation. What lessons have you learned from that?  A second question, Sam, is: can you tell us a bit more about the independence of the BBRS and the scheme?

SAMANTHA BARRASS: Thanks, Ken. I think I have covered some of the real lessons that we have learned around the need for it to be bespoke and responsive and the important role that can be played by Customer Champions. I think one of the key lessons that I have learned and have really noted is just how important it is, and this cuts to the heart of your second question, that BBRS’s independence is safeguarded within the scheme. I think next to fair and reasonable, the point I was covering in my opening remarks, securing independence, has been a core theme to all of the work we have done to build the BBRS over the past year or so. Everyone involved – the participating banks, SME representatives and we in the BBRS – is absolutely clear about the importance of independence to those who will use and, critically, trust the service. That is why the scheme has been built expressly to directly safeguard the independence of the Chief Adjudicator and this is an express duty of the Board as set out in the articles of association. It has an express duty to protect the Chief Adjudicator’s independence. That is why so much work has gone into ensuring that the independent decision-making is supported and underlined by BBRS’s operational independence. This includes ensuring that the financial support and financing of the scheme is secured, and it is secured in a way that is completely separate and agnostic to particular cases and any or all of the Chief Adjudicator’s decisions.

KEN BISHOP:  Thank you, Sam, for that. Perhaps I could turn to our next panellist, Kevin Hollinrake MP, Chair of the APPG on Fair Business Banking. Welcome, Kevin.

KEVIN HOLLINRAKE:  Thank you, Ken.  I am delighted to be with you.

KEN BISHOP:  Kevin, we know you have been a great supporter of this service being launched.  Could you tell us a little bit about the journey there has been in establishing where we are today?

KEVIN HOLLINRAKE: I think the first thing to say about the launch of this new service is it is such a momentous change. It is a historic moment. I know in politics we talk about that quite a lot, but for the first time businesses with a turnover of up to £10 million will have access to free dispute resolution. Before that has only been available to very small businesses. While that is really important, prior to my time in politics, and I have been in politics for five years and for a lot of that time I have been campaigning on this issue, I was in business for 30 years, and for the vast majority of that time I have been treated very fairly by our banks. That is most people’s experience, but the trouble is what happens when you are not, what happens when things go wrong, in that minority of cases? What a lot of people do not know, even people in business, is that business lending is not regulated. If it comes to a point where you are unfairly treated by your bank and disadvantaged by that, it means you are on your own. The  only place to go is to go to the court. As Samantha was saying earlier, fair and reasonable does not apply in court. You are really trying to get justice and compensation based on what is in the agreement with the bank. It is pretty difficult even to get to court, never mind to win in court. There is a huge imbalance of power.

Now, effectively, you have a situation where that playing field is much more level. Our primary role as parliamentarians is to maintain a fair and level playing field, and this means for the first time you have this level playing field between banks and businesses, which is, as I say, a historic moment. It has come as a result of campaigning from many people, including the All‑Party Group for Fair Business Banking, which had plenty of Chairs prior to my involvement. Heather Buchanan, Director of Policy, ran a wonderful campaign. We also thank the SME Alliance and the Treasury and the banks for bringing forward this new scheme. I am delighted to be working with the All‑Party Group for Fair Banking Finance over there – Ken, yourself and Pat – because I think you have a huge role to play in ensuring that businesses are aware of this service and use it when things go wrong, and to understand it is a fair and level playing field. That has massive implications for the future.

KEN BISHOP:  Thanks, Kevin. The APPG has played a central role in driving forward the wider issue of ADR as well. Can you tell us a bit about your experience of this?

KEVIN HOLLINRAKE:  As I said before, ADR is important because not many people want to go to court. Usually it is a very expensive process, and in the situation we often deal with where a business has just gone under, they do not have the money to go to court anyway. It can take millions of pounds to take a bank to court. Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) means there is no cost of going to court. It is a free service. You get a Customer Champion, as Samantha was saying, and it is judged on a fair and reasonable basis. That does not happen in the courts. It is a huge change. The best thing about that, I think, is it will bring about a huge cultural change in the banking sector. As I say, the vast majority of people in the banking sector do a very good job and treat businesses fairly, but there have been some horrific instances in the past where that has not been the case. I think for the first time having this accountability for banks will be a huge deterrent for bad behaviour in the first place and will bring about a big culture shift within the banking sector and rebuild trust between business and banks. I cannot tell you how important this is and what a historic moment it really is.

KEN BISHOP:  Thanks, Kevin. It makes sense if we have a conversation and move across now to the SME sector. We are glad to have Roger Pollen here representing the Federation of Small Businesses in Northern Ireland. Perhaps I will start with you, Roger. Obviously, the engagement of this new service and the improvement we hope it is going to mean in that relationship between your membership, the SMEs, and the banks, how do you think this is going to impact your membership and businesses in general in Northern Ireland?

ROGER POLLEN:  Thank you very much. I think it is tremendously welcome. We did a piece of work with the Ulster University Business School about six years ago that looked at the SME/bank relationship. It found that one of the most important things for a business to have was a relationship with its bank, because then they could grow together, explore things, bring in advice and guidance and share the journey together. It sounds slightly trite, but it very much was seen as that. The service that you are bringing today here is very welcome as an insurance that you hope never to have to draw on. You hope the relationship will thrive throughout the lifetime of your business and your time in business, but for those ones for whom it does not work, usually at that point it is when the business has already been exhausted financially, and therefore the thought of having to take on and get resolution and justice through the courts is yet another burden, which can often mean it is justice denied because they just do not have the time or the financial resources to take that on. Having a service like this behind you, just on your shoulder, available to talk to, to step in, to achieve resolution when things have become very difficult is tremendously welcome and valuable. It is the sort of service which is a bit like breakdown cover for your car: you like to know it is there but hope you are never going to have to draw on it.

KEN BISHOP: Thanks, Roger. Looking at the challenging environment for all SMEs at the moment, I would acknowledge what you say there. I am also very aware that the FSB has been involved from the outset nationally in working with the BBRS in setting up the service. How do you think that relationship will mature and develop as the service is rolled out across Northern Ireland?

ROGER POLLEN: The FSB is very fortunate in that we are a federated organisation so we have strength right across the UK. I think our colleagues in Westminster have done a tremendous job in helping to shape what we are now benefiting from here locally. The service that Samantha outlined there comes in to fill a gap and provides a trusted service and so on, and delivers at volume. I suspect that has partly evolved because of the inputs that our colleagues in Westminster have made to this.  As with so many things in life, it is always nice for somebody else to take the arrows so you can go in and take the land, but I think it means a lot of the issues that need to be addressed by this sort of service in its design have already been considered and thought through. The overview that Samantha gave of it is highly encouraging. I do not think there is anything you would want to tweak or change about the ambition that the service has.

KEN BISHOP: Thank you very much for your contribution, Roger, it is welcome. I will pass now to Pat Catney LMA, who is Chair of the APG for Fair Banking and Finance of the Assembly. Pat, welcome.

PAT CATNEY: Thank you very much. I also want to welcome the BBRS at this moment. It means some good news for Northern Ireland in this most difficult of years that we have had. Providing for access to finance and supporting our SMEs through the post‑Covid recovery is an issue that impacts people across the regions of the UK and requires great commitment from elected officials across all political parties and Governments. As such, we were delighted to launch the All‑Party Group for Fair Banking and Finance in October. Sam Barrass kindly joined us and I want to thank her for coming over here today for the launch here in Belfast as well. The APG will work very closely alongside our colleagues such as Kevin Hollinrake in the Westminster APPG for Fair Business Banking, and alongside the BBRS, which we recognise will extend a vital service to our local SMEs.

In the new APG we aspire towards a finance sector which truly serves the interests of small and medium‑sized businesses. They constitute the lifeblood of our local economy. We here in Northern Ireland know that the pumping heart of our economy is our small and medium‑sized businesses.  Following the 2008 financial crash, people in SMEs did not have the necessary services and support to turn to when their businesses and their livelihoods were greatly affected. We hope that through the APG here, and the BBRS and other banking initiatives, we can now provide that support which is much needed, and improve the relationships and trust between businesses and banks, lenders I should say but that is trying to cover the whole sector.

One particularly positive element is the fact that the BBRS is free. It removes the cost, the stress and the risk of going to court. That means a lot of people will get access to justice who would not have had that in the past. Furthermore, by bringing together groups across the financial sector, including SMEs, consumer groups and financial organisations, and giving equal representation to each, we can design constructive reform and address the conflicts that exist between these groups. By engaging openly and transparently with all the stakeholders I have just outlined, we can rebuild trust in banking and the financial sector, giving SMEs and customers more confidence to borrow and invest.

As the BBRS enters the final stages of its launch, I have been really pleased to see so much buy‑in from across the financial and political landscape. The fact that the service has the backing of seven major banks, backing from high‑level politicians from across our four nations and backing from business groups gives me faith that the service can go a long way to help level the playing field.  Myself, along with Ken and the rest of the APG will continue to liaise with the BBRS. We are looking forward to seeing the launch in the new year.

On a final note, I would just like to say to any of my colleagues listening to this, please recommend the service to your constituents if they are facing complications with their bank. The more people who apply to use the service, the better. Thank you.

KEN BISHOP:  Thank you, Pat. Pat, it is clear that the APG has invested a lot in the success of the BBRS, and rightly so. How do you plan to continue to engage in this initiative in the future?

PAT CATNEY:  I think I have to go to my colleague Kevin in Westminster, and the rest of the APPG, continue to liaise with the BBRS, with Sam. We have built up very good relationships already. The little while that we have got our APG going over in Northern Ireland, we are looking forward to seeing the service, as I said. As an MLA and Chair of the APG, I will personally continue to apply scrutiny to the behaviour of the banks, as we look to provide the right conditions for the SMEs to bounce back after a difficult year. We all know how difficult the year has been.

KEN BISHOP:  Thank you, Pat. One final question here: would you encourage more Northern Irish banks to join in the scheme?

PAT CATNEY:  Absolutely. That is what we need. We need complete buy‑in to this. I would ask everyone possible. We have been lucky enough, as I said, and I am pleased that Danske Bank is involved, and I have been informed that a number of banks have been engaged and supportive of information for this service. The banks which have signed up to this service will identify a number of benefits, including being able to solve cases without wasting money and time at court, and consumers having far more confidence. I believe it is all about the confidence in the relationships and being able to bounce back more confidently in their borrowing and in their investments. To those banks still outside the service, I would say to them just the general standard will be uplifted of the seven banks here.

KEN BISHOP:  Thank you, Pat, very much. On the topic of banks I want to welcome Paul Leonard, the non‑executive Chairman of UK Finance’s Northern Ireland Committee. Paul, I want to first of all acknowledge the support UK Finance has been to the scheme but also to the APG here in Northern Ireland. Paul, perhaps just to start off, how do you think that the BBRS will help to restore some or help build some of that trust and confidence between SMEs and the banking services?

PAUL LEONARD:  Thanks, Ken, and thanks for your words recognising the input from UK Finance into this initiative. First of all, there is no doubt that trust was damaged in some cases between the banking industry and business. It was particularly acute in Northern Ireland due to the strength and depth of the downturn that we had here. This scheme, I believe, can build trust and, if customers can see there is a fair system which is easy to use, perhaps that will encourage them to take on additional investment and take on different debt that they might not have taken on if the scheme was not there.  Hopefully, it will help encourage expansion as we go forward in the difficult couple of years ahead.

I would also like to say that I think it is important to highlight that part of building trust is also the extent of support, and this should be recognised, that the banks nationally but also locally have provided during this pandemic. This has been widely recognised by both the business community and by political representatives. Just as an illustration, in quarter two this year, in the three months to June, £1 billion of new money was lent to businesses in Northern Ireland. That is around three times the normal run rate we would have experienced in 2019. The banks stepped forward and supported the economy at a time when their business models themselves were difficult due to the lockdown. They stepped forward and supported the economy, and hopefully that will be recognised. Ken, hopefully that answers your question.

KEN BISHOP:  It does. Thank you very much for that support, Paul. We should also bear in mind the wider picture and the challenges we all face with Covid and the pressures on businesses in particular. How do you envisage the BBRS fitting into the wider financial service landscape of UK Finance and what is currently happening?

PAUL LEONARD:  I think it is fair to say that the regulatory landscape we operate in now has changed significantly over the years. There are much clearer expectations now on the banks as to how they treat customers in difficulty and vulnerable customers. These are set out in standards whether it be by the Lending Standards Board or the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). The ground rules are quite clear and the banks understand that, which will hopefully address many of these issues before they become issues.

Customer care and conduct is very high on the agenda in all the banks, both at the board room level and right down through the organisation. The BBRS, I believe, fits quite well with that. The banks are pleased that the scheme is coming and I do not think it is in any way a change, because it is a natural fit with the general rules they are following in any event. Where there are two parties involved in a commercial arrangement, there will always be disputes, not just between banks and their customers but between two SMEs and trading businesses. BBRS gives a mechanism to address that if things go wrong.

KEN BISHOP:  Just one final quick question: what would your message be for other banks who might consider joining this scheme?

PAUL LEONARD:  I think it has been called out that there were seven banks involved in the design of this scheme and, at a national UK level, that covers a significant proportion of the market.  However, it is recognised that the structure of the banking industry in Northern Ireland is a little bit different because we have some banks that do not really operate to the same extent in GB. There is an issue recognised there. Ultimately, it is a decision for those individual firms. Just to remind people, this is a voluntary scheme. The banks have brought this forward following some research. Ken has referred to the gestation period in terms of bringing this forward, but it is a scheme that goes above and beyond what banks are required to do under their statutory obligations. Whilst independence is critically important, it is also recognised that the banks are paying for this scheme. It has been highlighted a few times that this is at no cost to SMEs. It is there, but ultimately it is a decision for those banks that are not involved. However, I would say that a fair and efficient dispute mechanism has benefits for both parties, for both the banks and their customers. Ultimately, if there is a good feedback loop, it should improve service and reduce the level and extent of any disputes going forward.

KEN BISHOP:  Thank you very much, Paul, for your time. That was really useful. I also want to introduce another panellist: Bill Pauley, who is Head of Strategic Policy and Reform at the Department of Finance. Bill, we particularly welcome you this afternoon. Bill, I was wondering what are the challenges facing SMEs, and how do you think banks can help overcome those?

BILL PAULEY:  Ken, SMEs at the minute are facing a huge challenges just to survive and get through the Covid crisis  as well as simultaneously trying to prepare for one of the biggest changes to our trading conditions that we would ever have seen. It is a time when they need as much certainty as possible and there is very little of that about, to even know what their trading position will look like in just a very small number of weeks’ time. I suppose at this minute we have seen a lot of those SMEs taking care of their finances, at a time when they need also to take care of employees in different sectors in ways that might mean them being laid off or might mean just trying to survive, but also to know and hope what the new year might bring in terms of being able to open up and to grow again and to secure the finance that they need to, first, survive and then hopefully emerge from the current crisis we are in and go beyond that.

KEN BISHOP:  Thanks, Bill. How can the BBRS help provide an environment that supports economic recovery and growth?

BILL PAULEY:  This has always been a difficult area for us in the local executive departments where we have no powers in relation to banking and access to finance. It means at times of crisis like the previous banking crisis, and I suppose some of the situation we find ourselves in with the national finance schemes that are available, and companies facing difficulties and unseen levels of complexity and difficulties, that really there is very little we can do other than write letters to regulatory authorities or write letters to the banks themselves. We have engaged also with UK Finance to try to engage with our local banking sector so when people are talking about problems that we try to resolve the generic issues or involve ourselves in them.

In terms of the many individuals who might approach Ministers with particular problems, we have nowhere to refer them. We cannot become involved in individual issues and how they might be explored. To have a trusted service that can look into those that can explore those and that Ministers can refer them to that and help regain some of the confidence of those people, so that the specific problems that they have can be investigated and explored, and hopefully resolved, is something we do not have at the minute. It is something we are very much looking forward to having. I was fortunate enough to meet Samantha and Laurenz yesterday for a couple of hours. We gave our commitment that we would be working with them and looking forward to them getting up and running here. Certainly anything we can do to facilitate help that we will be willing to do that and to work with them going forward.

KEN BISHOP:  Thank you very much, Bill, and thank you to all the panellists for your very informed contributions. I want now to move to the concluding remarks section and I want to invite Lewis Shand Smith, Chair of the BBRS, to talk a bit about the vision. Over to you, Lewis.

LEWIS SHAND SMITH:  Thank you very much, Ken, and thank you for facilitating us today. Thanks too to all the panellists for your contributions and to Brandon Lewis in anticipation of what he is going to say at the end.

I am Lewis Shand Smith. I chair the BBRS. I also chair the Implementation Steering Group charged with creating the BBRS. My background is in dispute resolution. I have been an ombudsman in both the public sector as Deputy Ombudsman in Scotland, and in the private sector as the UK Energy and Telecommunications Ombudsman. I am also a qualified mediator, which I guess is why they chose me for this job.

Let me remind you again of why the BBRS has been created. There are two key points: first of all, to correct historic injustices and, secondly, to provide reassurance for the future that larger SMEs have somewhere to turn when things go wrong, without the need for expensive and risky litigation. As has been said, we will be impartial, independent and transparent, but of course, it is not going to be easy sitting between the banks on the one hand and the SMEs on the other. Some of our findings will not be easy reading for the banks, but equally, it is inevitable we will not find in favour of every SME that has a dispute. As has been said, we will be simple, we will be accessible, we will be free, and bespoke to the needs of each person using our service. As Sam says, rather than a “computer says no” approach, we will have a Customer Champion assigned to each case to guide and support the bank customers every step of the way.

It is important to remember that we are not just about adjudicating cases. We are here to promote resolution using the full suite of dispute resolution tools at our disposal. If a case is suitable for mediation, and the parties agree, that will be our preferred route. Where there is the possibility of early settlement, we will seek to achieve that, provided always that it is consistent with securing fair and reasonable outcomes. We encourage you to consider our service when approached by constituents who may be eligible who have a problem. We are here to help. We will give early advice and we will be very responsive to your offices if you approach us for guidance. We will be on hand to signpost and to support you and your constituents.

As we get ready to launch, my thanks go to the SME groups who have given so much time and energy in getting us to this point, including the APPG on Fair Business Banking and the Federation of Small Businesses. We could not have done this without them. Also to the seven banks for their commitment to our public interest mission. The banks have recognised the problems of the past and recognised that these must be addressed and also the need to ensure there is a way of resolving disputes that we may face in the future.

As has been said, we are entering very difficult economic times and we at the BBRS take our role seriously. I would like to thank Ernst & Young, our project secretariat, and EY Law, our legal advisers, and the BBRS Board and team, who stand ready now to take us forward. The BBRS legal architecture, including the rules and policies for the service, were approved last week to go through the respective governance processes of the banks and the SME groups. These are to be signed off next month, after which the BBRS will be fully independent and fully operational.

I am convinced the BBRS will make a contribution to improving the climate of investment by increasing the confidence of SMEs to borrow and to help us to grow out of this crisis. I also hope it will go some small way to promoting trust and confidence between the SMEs and the banks.

Thank you all for joining us, and unless, Ken, you have any questions for me, I am going hand back to you to introduce the Rt Hon Brandon Lewis MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

KEN BISHOP:  Thank you, Lewis. The Secretary of State, the Rt Hon Brandon Lewis had hoped to join us today. Unfortunately, because of work commitments, he has not been able to, but he has had time to do a short video piece for us, which we will play now.

BRANDON LEWIS:  First, I am sorry I am not able to dial in and join you live and in person, but I want to take this opportunity to thank you for giving me the chance to provide this clip. In my time as Northern Ireland Secretary I have seen the vital importance of SMEs to the Northern Ireland economy and the brilliance of those businesses across a wide range of sectors, whether it is green tech, fintech or cyber. They are the backbone of the Northern Ireland economy and the key to future growth. We need to have the confidence to look at how we develop that, to grow more jobs and investment in Northern Ireland in the future. That is why it has been great to see the banking and finance sector coming together with representatives of the business community to develop this scheme ‑ the Business Banking Resolution Service ‑ a great step forward.

As a former business owner myself, I know the importance to businesses of the ability to access finance as well as advice and to know that government is going to have your back and create the environment in which businesses can prosper, especially as we recover from Covid. This new service can be an important opportunity for small businesses to benefit from in the future. It can help maintain the relationships of trust that SMEs have with the banks and with the wider community. I look forward to seeing the development of this new service as it goes forward, and I hope that other financial providers will look to get involved to do all that we can – together – to provide for the future of businesses and businesses here in Northern Ireland.

KEN BISHOP:  Thank you very much for those words, Secretary of State. All that remains for me to do is to thank very much all our panellists for contributing today. If any MLA or business or others want further information, I would strongly encourage them to go on to BBRS’ website. Thank you.