CABINET 9 APRIL 2013 BUSINESS LOAN FUND REPORT OF THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE

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1 E CABINET 9 APRIL 2013 BUSINESS LOAN FUND REPORT OF THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE Purpose of the Report PART A 1. To seek approval for the establishment of a Business Loan Fund for small business in Leicestershire. Recommendation 2. It is recommended:- a) That 1m be allocated from County Council reserves to set up a loan fund for small businesses in Leicestershire as part of the County Council s package of measures to support economic growth; b) That authority be given to the Chief Executive to undertake a procurement process to identify an appropriate and suitable external agency offering good value for money and confidence of delivering acceptable returns on investment; and c) That subject to b) above, a further report be submitted to the Cabinet seeking approval for an external agency appointment and detailed proposals of the loan fund. Reasons for Recommendation 3. To address the availability of capital to small business as a barrier to growth, as one of the agreed economic growth priorities and the delivery of the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP) Economic Growth Plan and the priority outcomes set out in the Leicestershire Together Outcome Framework. 4. To complement the Regional Growth Fund award of 7.8m for the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership to develop a Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) Business Grants Fund; 300,000 of County Council grant made available for local businesses through the Rural Capital Programme , operated by the 1

2 Leicestershire Rural Partnership, and 20,000 Social Enterprise Grant ( ) to help business growth in this developing sector. Timetable for Decisions (including Scrutiny) 5. Subject to Cabinet approval and legal advice being sought, the process for procuring an appropriate and suitable external agency for the Loan Fund will commence at the beginning of the 2013/14 financial year, prior to a report seeking approval being presented to a future meeting of the Cabinet. Policy Framework and Previous Decisions 6. On 19 March 2012 Leicestershire Together agreed its Outcome Framework 2012/3. One of the four Framework priorities is The Growth of the Leicestershire Economy which includes the following priority outcomes relevant to this proposal: i) Accelerated growth in existing sectors; ii) Improved business survival and productivity and increased business in emerging growth sectors; and iii) Funds are aligned to maximise enterprise growth and there is increased enterprise through innovation, research and development. 7. These priority outcomes are consistent with the strategic objectives, priorities and key actions set out in the Economic Growth Plan produced by the LLEP in summer These aim to: i) accelerate existing enterprise growth; ii) improve survival and productivity; and iii) facilitate new sector development. And to achieve these by actions including: i) supporting enterprise growth and investment; and ii) making available capital to enterprise growth. And to do so by focusing on the following sectors: i) food and Drink manufacturing; ii) distribution and logistics; iii) tourism and hospitality; iv) knowledge-based businesses; v) hi-tech engineering; vi) business and financial services; vii) creative, design, media and performing arts; viii) space and aerospace; and ix) environmental technologies 8. On 13 November 2012, the Cabinet approved a set of Economic Growth Priorities, with the main area of focus on the following: i) Worklessness; ii) Employment Land & Buildings iii) Distribution and Logistics; 2

3 iv) Capital Availability and v) Enterprise Growth. 9. The LLEP has recently been successful in securing 7.8m Regional Growth Fund (RGF) and recently launched a competitive business grants programme for manufacturing SMEs based in the City of Leicester, County of Leicestershire or moving into the area. The focus of that programme will be on investment in: machinery acquisition; property improvement; building expansions and infrastructure improvement. Opportunities to align RGF with other government funding schemes are being actively pursued to increase return on investment and secure additional resources. Resource Implications 10. Indicative funding requirements for County Council investment of 1m for proposed activities are set out in Part B of this report. This allocation will be subject to further detailed consideration, including legal, state aid and/or procurement issues, in conjunction with the development of other related funding schemes and will include administration and operational costs. 11. As with any money lending activity it should be noted there is a risk that financial losses could be incurred and also that the County Council should consider possible reputational risk arising from refusal of loans and/or any pursuit of bad debt. 12. The Director of Corporate Resources has been consulted on the contents of this report. Legal Implications 13. Subject to Cabinet approval of the allocation of 1m to set up the Loan Fund, detailed proposals will be drawn up and legal advice obtained from the County Solicitor prior to final approval being sought of the Cabinet. Circulation under the Local Issues Alert Procedure 14. A copy of this report has been sent to all Members via the Members Information Service. Officer to Contact Tom Purnell, Head of Policy & Communities, Peter McLaren, Policy & Partnerships Manager,

4 PART B Background 15. As set out in paragraphs 6 and 7 above Leicestershire Together and the LLEP have agreed objectives, priorities and key actions in support of economic growth. 16. As highlighted in paragraph 8 above the County Council has an agreed set of Economic Growth Priorities, including actions to support their delivery such as the establishment of a Business Loan Fund to enable delivery of Capital Availability and Enterprise Growth. Rationale for establishing a Business Loan Fund 17. It is well documented and evidenced nationally that the so called liquidity crisis is restricting the supply of finance for investment and working capital for local companies seeking to increase production. Local firms are also suffering from a lack of appropriate advice and guidance on where to obtain finance. It would appear that the problem is particularly acute for recently established micro and small firms. Appendix A to this report contains further details on the problems of capital availability. 18. Research to date has shown that the probability of a local authority achieving a positive financial return through the operation of a loans scheme to SME businesses is unlikely. Return on investment would need to be measured by consideration of other benefits, such as potential wider economic development and social impact, as well as being seen as a potentially commercial venture. 19. Following approaches to two high street banking lenders, a number of gaps in service provision were identified that a local authority fund could legitimately address: i) Businesses in the second year of operation with sound business plans but limited trading evidence; ii) One off capital expenditure on new and innovative equipment; iii) Small loans up to 5,000, where a fixed, proportionately high, arrangement fee is unattractive; and iv) Activities associated with Research and Development. 20. It is proposed that the loan fund would have the following key objectives: i) To provide a short term and temporary response to assist small businesses in Leicestershire access finance complementary to existing bank and government lending and local and national grant funding opportunities; ii) To encourage job creation and preservation and promote business development and growth; iii) To leverage private sector investment to either enhance capacity and/or promote innovation and technological advances; and iv) To provide real tangible impact on the wider rural economy. 21. There are a number of key issues to consider in the rationale for establishing a business loan fund: 4

5 i) Ensuring the fund is complementary and not competing with other funding schemes and sources; ii) Securing an appropriate and acceptable return on any capital deployed and minimise the risk of loan default; iii) Identifying suitable criteria and eligibility for financial support; iv) Adhering to appropriate and suitable processes and procedures of operation; v) Take account into account any state aid and procurement considerations. Options for the delivery of a Business Loan Fund 22. The following three options could be considered for delivering the loan fund: Operate the fund through a Bank by underwriting loans. 23. A loans fund could be operated through a bank on a similar arrangement to the local authority mortgage scheme approved by the Cabinet on 23 July This would have the advantage of ensuring it is complementary with mainstream bank funding and ensuring that expert advice is provided on lending. County funds could be used to underwrite bank loans to businesses that have credible finance requirements but do not meet bank lending criteria. The County Council approached two high street banking lenders but did not gain sufficient interest, although both were keen to signpost customers to the fund that could not secure a bank loan. Develop an in house service with procured external advisers 24. Developing an in house service might minimise associated running costs but would require capacity, skills and knowledge that may not be directly available within the organisation. External advisers would have to be procured - with ongoing cost implications - to provide expert lending advice to the County Council and business support for applicants. Market research has shown that there are a small number of advisers active in the County who do have relevant experience. Operate the fund through an external agency preferred option 25. A number of Councils do operate Business Loan Funds through a Community Development Finance Institution acting as a third party agency or intermediary organisation, examples of which are the Black Country Reinvestment Society (working with local authourities in Stoke on Trent, Dudley, Staffordshire and Walsall), Finance Birmingham (Birmingham City Council and Solihull MBC) and Impetus (Herfordshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire Councils). 26. In the East Midlands, First Enterpise Business Agency provides loans to help entrepreneurs start up and expand businesses throughout the region and locally Skills for Enterprise offer loans to young people aged years who want to start up their own business. 27. The Government announced in December that it is planning to lend 20m over the next 2 years to small businesses through Funding Circle as part of the 100m allocated in the Budget for investment in non-bank channels to help imporve the flow 5

6 of finance to growing businesses. Lancashire County Council already lends to local businesses through Funding Circle are looking to increase investment over the next 5 years and are keen to build similar relationships with other councils. 28. The benefit of using external support is that the County Council can focus on setting the aims of the fund and promotion of the scheme, with additional capacity procured to provide financial services expertise. The skills and experience would facilitate operation of the scheme in three ways: i) Adherence to regulations or financial services best practice; ii) Credit assessment to establish the risk of making individual loans; and iii) Management of the account to ensure the customer receives the right information and re-payments are made. Criteria for developing a Business Loan Fund 29. In considering the design of a loans fund, a number of criteria have been identified as the potential basis for setting up robust County Council scheme: 30. Funding for loans between 2,500 and 25,000 to be made available to Sole Traders; Partnerships; Limited Companies and Co-operatives/Social Enterprise businesses registered in Leicestershire, excluding Leicester City. The scheme would be targeted at micro and small businesses (less than 50 full time equivalent employess and/or a turnover below 10m) which have been trading for 12 months or longer and can show that they lack access to a High Street Lender and are prohibited from other relevant and available funding. 31. The sector focus to comprise the following: i) Food and Drink manufacturing and/or enterprise ii) Distribution and Logistics iii) Leisure, Tourism and Hospitality iv) Knowledge-based businesses v) Hi-tech Engineering vi) Business and Financial services vii) Creative, Design, Media and Performing Arts viii) Space and Aerospace ix) Environmental Technologies x) Agriculture and land-based businesses xi) Retail and commercial premises 32. Priority focus for the Loan Fund to provide equity for any of the following: i) Working capital ii) Refurbishment, Fixtures & Fittings iii) Property development iv) New technology, machinery or equipment v) Research & Development 33. The aims of the fund being to achieve sector development/growth and have a positive impact on the local economy/ community. Applications would be judged in terms of the projected impact on the following key outputs/targets: 6

7 i) Number of FTE jobs created or safeguarded ii) Number of apprenticeships/internships established iii) Increased level of skills training iv) Amount of investment leverage (e.g. private sector equity, grants, loans) v) Levels of Business Rate growth 34. Accountability would be via a Loan Panel appointed to set the aims of the fund and monitor the loans being made. The Panel could comprise a Cabinet Lead Member, senior finance officer and a non executive expert from the private sector. It would be responsible for overseeing the performance of the fund and reporting back to Cabinet. Equal Opportunities and Environmental Implications 35. Equalities and Environment Impact Assessments will be completed as necessary. Background Papers Economic Growth Plan LLEP, Outcomes Framework Leicestershire Together, Economic Growth Priorities Report to Cabinet, 13 November 2012 (Minute 574 refers) Appendices Appendix A Capital Availability - Some Key Facts 7

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