Dirk Paterson: Good morning, and welcome to this Business Banking Resolution Service briefing events. I am Dirk Paterson and I will be moderating today’s session. The BBRS is a new an independent not for profit service for larger SMEs with unresolved banking disputes. The service, which went live earlier this year is a voluntary scheme that has been set up by seven leading banks and SME groups working in partnership.
As an organisation, we are working to resolve both historic and current complaints using a full range of dispute resolution techniques, in so doing our aim is to increase SME confidence in bank lending and to build trust in the system.
Over the next 45 minutes, we’ll be hearing from representatives of three leading Welsh political parties; from the SME community; the banking community; and our own chair and chief adjudicator. We will share the transcripts of a recording of this online event after the event on our website, the bbrs.org.
We’re delighted to have the chance to speak to political and business leaders in Wales today. The BBRS is strongly committed to working closely with the devolved governments. We have made available Welsh language version of our introductory poster, and the version of our animation with Welsh subtitles is also available.
I’m delighted that joining us this morning are Joe Banks of the Welsh government’s economy department who leads on access to finance and the Development of Bank of Wales sponsored programmes. We’re also joined by Luke Fletcher, a member of the Senedd for South Wales West and Plaid Cymru spokesperson on the economy.
We’re also joined by Ben Cottam, head of Wales at the Federation of small businesses and Stephen Pegge, who is the managing director of commerce finance at the bank trade body UK finance and also the non-executive director of the BBRS.
We’re joined by Paul Davies, member of the Senedd for Preseli Pembrokeshire and the Welsh Conservative shadow Economy Minister. Paul was not actually able to join us in person this morning but has kindly provided pre-recorded remarks. We also have two BBRS representatives with us this morning, our chair Lewis Shand-Smith, and Alexandra Marks the BBRS chief adjudicator, who is also an accredited mediator, a lawyer and a part time judge in the Crown Court, High Court and first tier tribunal.
So I’m going to turn first to Alexandra. Alexandra, can you give us a quick introduction to the business banking resolution service and your role as chief adjudicator?
Alexandra Marks: Yes, of course, good morning. And just to reiterate what you’ve said there BBRS is an independent not for profit service set up to resolve disputes between larger SMEs and participating banks. As you also said, we’re a voluntary scheme, with seven participating banks covering the majority of the SME lending market in the UK. We’re unusual in that we have both their historical scheme helping SMEs with cases dating back as far as 2001 and a contemporary scheme looking at cases from April 2019 onwards.
We’ve been designed to dovetail with the Financial Ombudsman Service. The BBRS is a completely free of charge for SMEs with fully funded by the participating banks. But we are wholly independent of them and indeed everyone else.
A series of measures have been put in place to ensure that the BBRS decides complaints independently. As I’ve said, it’s structurally separate from the banks, and it’s managed and governed independently of them. This allows me as the chief adjudicator, to make determinations under the scheme rules entirely independently. My independence and that of my team is also safeguarded directly by the scheme rules and by the BBRS Articles of Association.
You also asked me to talk about my role as chief adjudicator. My role sits at the heart of our operation and I have overall responsibility for dispute resolution investigation and adjudication within the BBRS. I also have the authority to take the appropriate steps needed to secure a fair and reasonable outcome, in all cases.
I oversee the review of complaints and appeals handled by the BBRS. And alongside my team, I determine whether we’re able to help an SME, and the appropriate approach for handling complaints. I’ll also, as part of my role, seek to publicly highlight any lessons learned by the BBRS from this activity. In practice, and what we mean by fair and reasonable is that we’ll consider not only all available evidence, but also take into account all relevant law and regulations, codes of practice, standards, and where appropriate, what we consider was good industry practice at the relevant time. This means that unlike a court, in some circumstances we can find in favour of an SME, even when the actions of the bank were lawful, should those actions be deemed by us to be unfair or unreasonable.
Dirk Paterson: Thank you, Alexandra. And if I may, I’ll ask you a supplementary question. When members of the Senedd recommend BBRS to SMEs, I’m sure they’ll want to be able to reassure the businesses in their constituencies that the process is as simple as possible. Can you tell us a little bit about those processes and how the BBRS has put in place processes to make simplicity central?
Alexandra Marks: Yes, I’d be delighted to do that Dirk because that is one of the key guiding principles of the design of the organisation. It’s a bespoke operation, and each customer will receive individual time and attention from skilled and experienced people, as their case goes through the BBRS. From the outset, we’ve been conscious that customers need to feel listened to and understood. And as I say the BBRS has been developed with customer experience at its heart. That means we’ve done everything possible to ensure that this is an empathetic service, and why we spent so much time in getting a framework right and recruiting the right people. It’s also why we’ve chosen to partner with the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR). CEDR understands the service that the BBRS needs to deliver and will help us to scale up when necessary, whilst maintaining an individual experience for every user. All customers, will again free of charge, be assigned a customer champion. This role is unique to the BBRS and ensures that customers have a single point of contact from the beginning to end of their time with us.
Customer champions are not involved in assessing cases. They provide practical support to the customer bringing the complaint for example and putting the case together and deciding which pieces of evidence to submit.
In terms of the practicalities of using our service, we’ve created a bespoke online portal for customers to use when uploading documents, communicating with their customer champion, or viewing evidence from their bank. Our system doesn’t involve an algorithm. A lot of thought has gone into ensuring that it’s simple to use and secure. While the portal is used to share decisions either highlight customers always have the option of their customer champion being on the phone with them when they receive it to offer support, explanation and discuss next steps.
I’d also draw members of the Senedd’s attention to our use of alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation is no one size all fits approach, and we will recommend the best approach for resolution in each case.
Dirk Paterson: That’s excellent. Thank you very much. It does sound very simple and easy to use. I wonder if there’s anything else you’d like to highlight to members of the Senedd and their teams?
Alexandra Marks: I would please do it. Yes, first of all, I would like to ask for their help in raising awareness of their service with their constituents and others. Also, a key date is that historical cases must be registered with us on or before the 14th of February 2023. So that’s what about 21 months away. And although the BBRS will continue to work on cases until they are all resolved, they must be registered by that date. And as you’ve mentioned, we have Welsh language materials available. And we’re very happy to speak with members of the Senedd if they have any questions or would like to learn more about how our service could help their constituents. Thank you.
Dirk Paterson: Thank you very much. So our key dates, Valentine’s Day 2023. Let’s ensure that businesses are registered with historic cases by then. I’m going to turn now to Joe banks.
Joe, you have over 25 years of experience in the civil service and will have seen SMEs go through a number of challenging times. In the light of this experience, what role do you believe that BBRS can play in giving Welsh SMEs confidence to invest and grow in the wake of the COVID crisis?
Joe Banks: Good morning. Thank you. First of all, let me just start by giving apologies on behalf of the Minister for Economy, Vaughan Gething, who was on this occasion unable to join us. And thank you for the opportunity to be part of the panel today.
In representing the Welsh Government today, I just want to express I guess, full support for this industry led scheme. Everyone here will understand the scale of the global economic turbulence, which has been experienced in the unprecedented economic contraction, which has been driven by Coronavirus. You know, we all know that many businesses who historically have not borrowed money have needed to take on debt, and other businesses who have had to significantly extend their borrowing.
For example, the Small Business Finance Markets Report 2021 20 highlights that 45% of UK SMEs have applied for external finance in 2020, up from 13%, in 2019. You know, I don’t a barrage with statistics. But you know, in 2020 gross bank lending to SMEs, summed around £104 billion excluding overdrafts, you know, up by about 82% compared to 2019. And around 90% of firms, you know, seeking finance, I’ve done the so, you know, noting the implications of the pandemic. Just a quick plug here, Economic Intelligence Wales’s annual reports out next month, that gives a very good summary of relevant statistics and analysis, including on business confidence.
So you know, I guess a year on from the first wave, we know that obviously, many of the loans and financing businesses have been taking on in recent times are starting to come just and more businesses than ever, are using finance. And so it’s there’s never been a more viable time for a service such as this, you know, this arbitration service is going to be, I think, a real lifeline to many businesses seeking redress. And as such, you know, I know it will be welcomed by those businesses who are desperate to pursue dispute resolution, but who currently feel overwhelmed by the barriers they see on that journey.
You know, the reality is that many more decisions have become algorithm driven, you know, in local relationships and knowledge have, arguably a lesser role in many decisions. When you no longer have that direct pick up the phone type access to a local manager with decision making discretion, then new forms of mediation and arbitration have to be developed in the BBRS scheme is a really welcome expression.
Dirk Paterson: Joe, quick question. Do you see the Welsh Government as having a role to play in raising awareness of organisations such as the BBRS?
Joe Banks: Most certainly, and I can confirm that we’re already making arrangements necessary to ensure that the details of the BBRS service are signposts through his business, Wales Digital Service platforms and helpline. And we will be briefing all the business Wales advisors. So those within those advisory services are able to appropriately direct businesses to that service. You know, I think it’s critical that you know, for Wales to prosper, we need businesses to prosper, don’t we, and for businesses to prosper, and thrive, they need finance. And confidence is absolutely crucial when it comes to finance decisions. And as Welsh as government, just if, if this didn’t come through before, I just want to say now that we really welcome the launch of this scheme, which I think would be a really valuable addition to the services support within the finance ecosystem in Wales.
Dirk Paterson: So thank you very much. We absolutely agree. We want to raise confidence in Wales, and indeed beyond Wales, amongst the SME community. So thank you so much for your remarks. I’m going to turn now if I may, to Luke Fletcher, who’s a member of Senedd for South Wales, West. Luke, what do you think are the next steps that need to be taken in building trust between Welsh SMEs and the financial sector? And as the spokesperson on the economy for Plaid Cymru, what would you like to put in place next to make that happen?
Luke Fletcher: As you said I’m the economy spokesperson for Plaid Cymru boxes and have been for about a month and a half now, so still getting used to a lot of the different aspects of the job. And of course, getting to grips with the portfolio itself, which actually, I think, you know, as we begin to recover from the pandemic is going to be an incredibly important portfolio. So very exciting work to be undertaken, I think in the next few months.
for me, you know, an important part of the company will be the role of SMEs, most of which will need further government support as well as a confidence boost. I think a lot of us will be aware of the fact that there are a lot of smaller businesses would have needed to drastically rethink business plans, for example, and in some cases scrapping. So for many that means putting expansion on hold, which ultimately will have a negative effect on the economy going forward, especially given the fact that SMEs make up a significant part already of the Welsh economy.
So confidence really needs to be restored, we and we are going to need to see a substantial growth in our recovery, and in particular, sustainable growth. I think the BBRS has a bigger role to play in helping recover some of that confidence, you know, hopefully, the BBRS will increase confidence for SMEs in dealing with banks going forward. This will be of particular importance in the current climate, given the impact on business of Coronavirus and other changes like Brexit.
The guards for the financial sector among SMEs over the past 12 years as being somewhat bumpy and variable, I think it’s fair to say. But I think again, there’s an opportunity here for the BBRS to help rebuild that trust for the sector and hopefully, in the long term asking the banks actually to become proper partners for growth for SMEs. Of particular relevance at the moment, of course, will be the fact that the BBRS has confirmed it will be hearing eligible complaints relating to the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme. We know that the scheme itself was launched back in Spring 2020. And the objective, and I’m sure I don’t need to tell all of you here what the objective was, but it was to provide SMEs with access to loans and other forms of finance particular partially guaranteed rebate by the British government over the course of the pandemic. sooner rather than later, a lot of these deaths are going to be accumulated over the pandemic going to be called are going to be called in. So one of the worries I have would be that a lot of SMEs might struggle with repayment. So where these SMEs might not be able to seek the level of advice offered by the BBRS. If they had to pay for it. They now can that they think that’s a positive step forward. BBRS will, of course over the next couple of months, I think after demonstrate, and provide reassurances to SMEs that it has the capacity to deal with the number of complaints or requests for advice that are coming, particularly given the fact that the last 15 months will have has represented significant engagement with banks & SMEs, as we’ve heard from Joe. And I tried to outline I think, ways in which we can build trust. But I’ll finish with a few more points, I think we’re a bit tight for time here. I think the first port of call, of course, is ensuring that there’s increased visibility and awareness around the potential benefits of an independent third-party resolution service and a word of a number of SMEs. And actually, what actually wouldn’t have been, wouldn’t have considered really the option provided by the BBRS. And I think this speaks to a wider point really about ensuring that services provides provided by the BBRS are easily accessible to SMEs. SMEs are unlikely to have a large team behind them that can take on large administrative tasks. So it’s important that that there’s Ease of Access. Yeah, I think more broadly, there needs to be better a better understanding amongst smaller businesses, as to the nature of decisions that are made by banks, and more responsive decisions from banks are going to be needed as well.
Too often, and actually I’d like to thank the FSB for bringing all of these examples to my attention. But too often we do hear of arbitrary decisions being made with very little sort of intelligence, or of the sector or the geography in which the business is operating in. This means that businesses are often unsuccessful in getting funding or they may not get the appropriate funding for the businesses on sustainable terms, which can lead of course, to dispute and of course, dispute is what we’re looking to head off in the first instance.
So as I as I outlined really, at the start, you know, SMEs are going to be vitally important after the recovery in Wales, and they’re going to need the support. And I think it’d be BBRS has a role to play in providing some of that support. And but I’ll end with, I’ll end with this, you know, in the same way that Citizens Advice is for the individual, you know, hopefully BBRS can fill that role for businesses. So I suppose that’s my challenge this morning for the BBRS really, is to be as ambitious as that.
Dirk Paterson: Thank you very much Luke, we absolutely received that challenge. You spoke recently, at an FSB event talking directly to Welsh SMEs, if you haven’t already covered it, what other feedback did you receive on that occasion? And do you think are lessons that we need to learn at the BBRS?
Luke Fletcher: Yeah, you know, I, you know, that there was a lot that came up there actually in the FSB conferences, I think would be very useful then for the BBRS and as well as conversations I’ve had with SMEs in my region, a lot of which are starting to come through now, asking for this sort of advice. You know, I think that seems to be a gap really, in terms of when SMEs might actually think about approaching the BBRS and when they actually do approach them. And, you know, similar to funding really, you know, sometimes they might think that they’re not eligible for that advice. So I think there needs to be a body of work happening on the part of the BBRS really, to proactively reach out to SMEs. Of course, there’s a role for me to play in that as well as a local representative. There’s a role for Welsh Government is good actually that Joe mentioned that the Welsh Government is going to be taking this on board. And I think that’s the important part really is proactively reaching out to SMEs. Like I said, a lot of them don’t have massive teams behind them that can deal with administrative tasks. So I think it’s got to be a bit of give and take, being proactive is the best way forward.
Dirk Paterson: Thank you. That’s really helpful. Paul Davies, turning now to Paul, who is a member of the Senedd for Preseli, Pembrokeshire, and Welsh conservative shadow Economy Minister. Now, Paul was unable to join us in person this morning but has kindly provided some pre-recorded remarks which will be played for you now.
Paul Davies: Thank you for the opportunity to address you this morning. It gives me great pleasure to talk to you today about why support for small businesses is essential to economic recovery. The impact of COVID-19 on communities and sectors across Wales has been unlike anything we’ve seen. And once the pandemic has been a public health crisis, we must also acknowledge that it’s been an economic crisis to. The very nature of the virus has completely halted the normal day to day interactions on us all and in turn, our economy has largely come to a halt. Opening up some businesses is a step forward. But keeping those businesses alive is now the challenge. Centre for Towns report on COVID-19 and its impact on our towns rightly highlights the challenges for businesses in Wales. We know that the short-term crisis presented by the shutdown of large parts of the economy has disproportionately hit small and medium sized coastal towns for example. But there’s also a significant problem for businesses in the medium and long term too. The Harper Dennis Hobbs rankings, which come out every two years, sadly listed six Welsh high streets in the top 10 worst high streets category, including one in my own constituency. To see six out of the 10 years being in Wales is unacceptable. And so it’s crucial that the Welsh Government uses the leavers at its disposal quickly to bring about change, and help support our small businesses so that our high streets can continue to be at the hub of our local communities.
Prior to being elected to the Senedd member for Preseli Pembrokeshire, I was a bank manager for a local high street bank, and I work specifically with small businesses. I learned from businesses first-hand about their needs and how challenging it can be. And so I’m really pleased to learn about the British Banking Resolution Service. The service focuses on achieving a fair and reasonable outcome for each customer, helping to restore trust, which in turn favourably influences the climate for investment by increasing confidence among businesses considering whether to borrow. It’s great to hear that the service is completely free of charge to customers, who benefit from the practical support and guidance of their designated customer champion. These customer champions have been put in place to offer a helping hand and consistent point of contact with customers. And that’s a very welcome and important step forward.
As we build back from the pandemic, we need to strengthen support for small and medium sized businesses across the UK. And the BBRS is a positive move that will not just support businesses, but hopefully empower them too. The economic benefits of supporting small businesses are well known. However, it’s worth reminding you all of the research conducted by FSB Wales and the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, which found that for every £1 spent with a local small business, approximately 63p is recycled into the local economy compared to 40p for the larger company. This really demonstrates the economic impact of spending with SMEs in Wales. By supporting small businesses and developing policies around them. More and more money is recycled in our local communities. As we look ahead, we need to ensure that money is reinvested in our local communities. And we need to ensure that banks and lenders work with their business customers to help them. But it still remains a challenging time for SMEs, that’s why BBRS is so crucial. The addition of an independent resolution service, that is free to use and transparent in approach, will give businesses the confidence to borrow, invest and grow. Therefore, thank you once again for inviting me to contribute to this morning’s launch. And I hope the business banking resolution service is a huge success.
Dirk Paterson: That was Paul Davies, the member of the Senedd for Preseli Pembrokeshire. We’re going to turn now to Ben Cottam. Our first of our representatives from the Welsh SME community Ben Cottom, head of Wales at the Federation of small businesses. Welcome.
Ben, we hope that the existence of the BBRS and knowing there’s a free alternative to taking their bank to court will help to improve the confidence levels of SMEs in the banking sector. How might this impact your membership and Welsh SMEs more generally?
Ben Cottam: Good morning, everyone. And yeah, I think this will go a long way to instilling that confidence that we know that the businesses will need. Understanding the processes as Alexandra has outlined of BBRS, and particularly the point that Paul’s just referenced about the – if I can call it the hand holding of – customer champion to help you through that process and, and sort of guide, SMEs in the right direction is going to really be a big, big part of that confidence.
I think we’ve seen as Luke has mentioned, an exposure to banking finance for a lot of SMEs that wouldn’t either have chosen to seek that route before or may have been reticent to do that anyway. So, I think we necessarily have a lot of businesses that are now exposed to the to the main lenders in a way that they weren’t previously. So for existing customers and new customers to have confidence in not only the processes of the banks, but the right of redress should that be needed through the through the through the Business Banking Resolution Service, is really going to be an important step in instilling that confidence.
I think it’s, you know, several contributors have made the point about, you know, the vulnerability of the last year and, you know, a lot of that, as Paul mentioned, a lot of that pressures fall disproportionately on SMEs, but also I think going forward the BBRS provides a really, really important opportunity. We in Wales have what we call a missing middle, which is you know, a dearth of medium sized enterprises. And part of that is the confidence and the I guess the applicability of the funding streams that are applied for growth funding. So, you know, BBRS will provide us with a really important base of intelligence as to what works, what doesn’t work. Crucially, it brings the lenders into that conversation.
Luke mentioned that that phrase partners for growth, and we want to see lenders as partners for growth, we want businesses to have confidence in institutions, that they are there to help grow their business. So I think that BBRS notwithstanding, obviously, its role as providing that resolution service is also going to bring crucial intelligence to the table as to what works and what doesn’t work. And also how lenders and funding institutions can hone their products to be more appropriate for SMEs in that conversation about SME growth.
So that is, you know, hopefully a very, very positive, forward look as to how maybe the service can be used. It is, of course, dependent on the awareness of SMEs, the service and FSB is one of the organisations that outlined the need for the service. And as a partner in the service, we’re really, really pleased to see it launched and to see these engagement events, and particularly for members of the Senedd and their teams, that awareness is going to be crucial.
I’m well aware that members of the Senedd and the staff that support them are really at the coalface of that conversation with SMEs, who will have concerns at times about the services that they’ve received from institutions. And so not only is there an important role for those teams and members of the Senedd to point to the BBRS, but also to help embed that sense of confidence, hopefully, that BBRS can bring.
So I think, you know, this service is really going to be quite crucial. It’s obviously important that FSB in all our dealings with SMEs make our members and the wider SME community aware of the existence of BBRS and the service it can support. But I would really like to see this bound into, as Joe mentioned, the sort of day to day interactions that the Business Wales service will have with businesses. So the more touch points that we can provide for BBRS with the SME community, the more awareness that we can generate, the more confidence that that will instil so I think, not only has is this really beneficial in terms of addressing those historical concerns that businesses might have and de-risking, dare I say it, the, the act of seeking redress if that’s necessary for SMEs, because they are necessarily small. They are resource poor in many instances, but also providing that confidence going forward that what we’re doing is improving the offering of financial institutions. And we’re improving the interaction that businesses have with them, because we know that in the in the recovery conversation, we need those institutions, we need lenders there to provide that stimulus for growth. That time will come, and businesses are now starting to recover. So I think it’s wholly appropriate and really positive right now that BBRS is launching and making it services available to SMEs in Wales.
Dirk Paterson: Ben, that’s really helpful. Thank you for that insight into the FSB community in Wales. Now, the FSB played a crucial role in the establishment of BBRS as you’ve said, as a member of the implementation steering group. Are there any particular elements of the service that you would highlight to members, your members in Wales?
Ben Cottam: I think it’s, you know, particularly the that, you know, getting clarity that this is an independent, this is a third party, it can be an independent third party that is trusted by businesses that it isn’t, you know, it does bring to the table, the goodwill of the institutions. And I think, you know, we should welcome the participation of the banks and other institutions in being a part of this service, because it shows a willingness to improve. But I think the, you know, that having a range of – I think Alexandra mentioned it earlier – a range of mechanisms, and the bringing alternative dispute resolution to the table is important. So, you know, there are a number of things that BBRS has within its toolkit. But, you know, having looked across the website in the last few days, myself, you know, that the language that’s used is very easy to understand, it’s very accessible. It’s great to see that BBRS is providing materials through the medium of Welsh as well. But I think, you know, I would encourage all SMEs and actually, dare I say it, you know, anyone who has a curiosity about these things, to have a look at the website and understand the process because it is set out very, very easily, very accessibly. I think clearly there is a big challenge for BBRS given the volume of engagement that there is between banking institutions and SMEs, particularly in light of the pandemic, but I’ve every confidence that the will is there on all sides of this conversation to make this work.
Dirk Paterson: Thank you so much Ben, that’s so important for us that it’s easy and accessible to the SME community. Alongside SMEs, of course, were the banks, seven in total, who worked very hard to set up the service. And we are joined by Stephen Pegge, who’s the Managing Director for Commercial Finance at UK Finance and also a non-executive director at the BBRS’s independent board. Stephen is going to talk to us about how the banks see the role of the BBRS in rebuilding trust and confidence in the banking sector. Welcome, Stephen. And over to you.
Stephen Pegge: Thank you. Good morning. Well, delighted to be here today. And for the banks involved in this it’s been the culmination really of a process which has taken three to four years actually, from inception, when an independent report was commissioned into how dispute resolution can be improved.
Dispute resolution is, you know, an essential ingredient of good commercial relationships. And prior to the report that was undertaken, all that was available with the Financial Ombudsman Scheme was something at the very smallest end of business. Essentially, the consumer end of small business. Important, though that is, it quite clearly didn’t go far enough. And that gap, I think, is something that we were always keen to fill.
The FOS extension, the Financial Ombudsman Scheme extension, went so far and was one of the recommendations of Simon Walker’s report, but there was still a further gap. And what’s more, I think there was a determination to do something about the past dissatisfaction, especially arising around the financial crisis. So, you know, for us, this has been hugely important.
When it comes to trust, I think we talk about trust, as if, you know, the higher the level of trust, the better. I actually slightly disagree, especially around finance, I think blind trust is not a good thing. Given that, you know, there’s a prevalence of scams and criminals. So a healthy degree of caution is appropriate, particularly for business customers with substantial responsibilities of their own. It’s ideal, in the end, where customers are well informed and empowered and make the right choices, that they are doing that very much with their own, you know, counsel and advice.
Secondly, though, little too little trust can be dangerous as well, particularly given that you want confidence to be there, in order for businesses to be open with their banks, and have the kind of, you know, exchange of information that can enable banks to support them, that they’re willing and prepared to request finance with, you know, confidence that there’s actually a backstop, such as delivered by the BBRS. That helps encourage recovery, ultimately, and in this moment in time, it’s very important because, you know, investment is low. And I think we’re going to have to depend more than more than just on a bounce back in consumer spending, if we’re going to have a sustainable recovery we’re all looking for.
The good news is the starting point now appears a bit better. So we just commissioned some research, which actually shows quite a substantial improvement in trust that’s been achieved over the last year. I’d like to say that’s all down to the BBRS. I think it you know, probably as much reflects the provision of finance through the COVID crisis. And that’s been quite substantial in Wales, 57,000, businesses have had £2 billion of government guaranteed lending, which is 4% of the total across the country, compared with 3% that businesses in Wales represent of the economy. And this, the trust level in banking has gone up, by as much as it has for the NHS and supermarkets and the pharmaceutical industry. So that’s really encouraging. The starting point, of course, is pretty low. So what it takes us to is the position sort of mid table now above energy companies, technology, police government, the BBC, but you know, that could fall again, and I’m very conscious as we go into the autumn liquidity tightens. Tomorrow, we’ve got the first beginnings of the withdrawal and tapering of support schemes. I think there’s a real test to come. And I do think we will see a rise in disputes. And having the ability to have those solved is going to be very important.
Dirk Paterson: Stephen, thank you so much. So important to be able to focus on that balance of trust that you outline there. Thank you.
Now, I’m going to hand over to our Chair, Lewis Shand-Smith, joining us all the way from the Shetland Islands for our closing remarks. Good morning to you Lewis, over to you.
Lewis Shand Smith: Good morning and unfortunately I’m not coming to you from the Shetland Islands, I’m in Edinburgh this morning but anyway probably the furthest North of your panellists this morning.
First, can I just say thank you to you all for your contributions and particularly for the very positive remarks I’ve heard and the real kind of support for the BBRS around the virtual table this morning. That’s good news for me. I’m really heartened, as I said, by what I’ve heard from you this morning.
And for my closing remarks, I really want to share with you something about my vision for the BBRS, which I think will inevitably sounds a bit like a summary of everything that you’ve heard already.
I have a background in dispute resolution, I’m an ombudsman. I’ve been an ombudsman in both the public sector in Scotland and for 10 years was the UK Energy & Telecommunications ombudsman, and I’m also a qualified mediator.
I chair the BBRS and before that I chaired the implementation steering group which was charged with creating this organisation. And behind all that I’m driven by a real determination to see justice done and to see wrongs put right – to see right done.
You know primarily, I listen to claims of historical injustice, many of them going back a decade or more to assist in finding resolution or to make determinations, and to determine the appropriate redress might be. For some people, all they might want is acknowledgement that something has gone wrong; for others, they want financial restitution, and that’s for us to determine. We also use different mechanisms; we use adjudication and we also use mediation where those in the dispute will come together and work out what an appropriate resolution actually is.
Alongside this, what is really important, and we’ve heard this already, is to give reassurance to the largest of the SMEs that they will now have access to quick, free and independent redress when they think something has gone wrong in the interactions with their bank.
We’re independent, we’re impartial and our decisions, as you know, are based on what is fair and what are the circumstances of the case, and we will take into account the relevant law and regulation. We’ll also pay attention to the particular economic environment and context within which Welsh businesses operate.
Of course, sitting between the banks on the one hand, and SMEs on the other, it will not necessarily be comfortable for us. Some of our findings will not make easy reading for the banks and equally its inevitable, that we’ll not find in favour of every business that has a complaint.
I really want to emphasize that we’re accessible, that we’re free and that we’re straightforward to use. And importantly, we’re bespoke to the needs of each person using our service.
As you’ve heard, we don’t have that kind of computer says no approach, but each customer will be assigned a customer champion to guide and support them through the whole process. And can I just emphasize, as Alexandra said, we’re not just about adjudicating cases, we’re here to promote resolution using the full suite of tools available to us. Provided that that is consistent with achieving that fair and reasonable outcome, that is our ambition.
May I encourage all members of the Senned, and your teams, to use our service when approached by constituents who have a problem and who you think might be eligible. We’re also here to help and give early advice and respond quickly to approaches from your offices and from you when you’re seeking guidance. We’ll be on hand to signpost and to support you and your constituents, and I take to that challenge which was laid to us earlier, it’s a very good challenge and I trust we’ll be up to the task because the BBRS is the result of the remarkable cooperation between the seven banks and representatives of the SME community. I guess, as is the fashionable term, that we’ve kind of co-created it.
I hope we will make our own contribution to improving the climate for investment in Wales by increasing the confidence of SMEs to borrow in order to grow out of this current crisis. And I also hope we’ll go some way in promoting confidence and trust in banks and the SME sector.
Thank you so much for joining us this morning. I’m going to hand back to Dirk Paterson to close our session but thank you all very much indeed and please use us in the future.
Dirk Paterson: Lewis, thank you very much and great to hear your dulcet tones from Edinburgh. Thank you indeed to all our participants this morning for your contributions and for your time. Full information is available on our website, thhebbrs.org. Thank you very much indeed.