British Business Bank ‘needs more independence’

Private Business Commission chair Steve Rigby

The independence of the Sheffield-based British Business Bank, the UK’s economic development bank, needs to be “bolstered” because its need to get government approval for its plans “limits how long-term it can be in its ambitions.”

That’s according to a new report from the Private Business Commission and The Entrepreneurs Network called Backing Breakthrough Businesses.

“As was noted in Labour’s Start-up, Scale-up Review, the British Business Bank (BBB) could benefit from further independence from the government,” said the report.

“Currently, the BBB’s business plan must be reviewed annually and get government approval, along with any changes to that business plan.

“This arguably forces the BBB’s hand, subjecting it, consciously or not, to the political priorities of whoever is in Downing Street, rather than necessarily allowing it to provide funding in the best way possible.

“Crucially, it also limits how long-term it can be in its ambitions.

“Electoral cycles last five years, but as recent history has taught us, much can happen in that time.

“And for many of the sorts of businesses that will – hopefully – one day end up as globally significant entities, they will require certainty and stability over a duration of perhaps 10-15 years or more.”

In its annual report for 2022-23, the British Business Bank said its financial support to smaller businesses through its core programmes was £12.4 billion, significantly exceeding its target of £10.7 billion.