The Government-owned British Business Bank has said UK taxpayers will feel the long-term benefits of plugging billions of pounds into small firms after revealing it swung to a loss of more than £147 million last year.
The UK’s economic development bank said it was impacted by wider economic difficulties which led to a drop in the valuation of firms it invests in.
It reported a pre-tax loss for the year to the end of March of £147.3 million, compared to a profit of £604.8 million the previous year.
The bank, which lends money to and buys stakes in smaller UK businesses to help them start and grow, made £1.6 billion worth of funding agreements during the latest year.
It brings the total funding to £12.4 billion to more than 90,000 businesses since the bank’s launch in 2014. The total figure does not include the Covid-19 loans which were administered by the British Business Bank (BBB).
UK taxpayers, who back the bank, have “not lost any money”, chief executive Louis Taylor made clear.
Mr Taylor told the PA news agency: “I think we generate a good return for the taxpayer.
“These are long-term investments and we are confident that over time, when we actually realise these investments, they will yield profitable growth for us but also real social benefit for the economy.”
The bank said it had been affected by falls in the market valuations of companies, especially in the technology sector which saw valuations cut after the pandemic.
But it said the drop in valuations and a consequent loss was expected after investing more in recent years.
“I think our portfolio has been performing very well,” Mr Taylor told PA.
“It is not without its issues, and it is not without any defaults at all, but we are a risk-taking organisation.”
The bank’s Start Up Loans programme recently reached a milestone of £1 billion in lending, with more than half the funding going to small businesses run by women and ethnic minorities.
The scheme targets underrepresented groups who are excluded from mainstream finance to help them start business, and regions outside of London and the South East.
Nearly all of its funding is given by providers outside of the “big five” British banks.
“The bank is more than self-sufficient in terms of operating itself from the income it generates from the portfolio,” Mr Taylor said.
“If you add in the social value of what we do, [the return] is very high indeed.”
The bank boss said UK smaller businesses are feeling more cautious now than in recent months amid higher interest rates and uncertainty over the future of the economy.
He added: “There are a lot of companies we see that have investment plans, but are waiting for the right time where they feel more confident to launch them.”
But there is “dynamism” amid the caution, he said, with businesses being launched in all corners of the UK.