I’ll be honest – I’d never heard of Kemi Badenoch before the current Tory leadership contest. But I did like her question to Rishi Sunak on Sunday evening’s ITV leadership debate – when she pressed him on why he had not taken Covid loan fraud seriously enough when devising financial support packages. Ever-ready Rishi came straight back with a response, but I don’t think any past or present government representative could hide their disappointment by today’s news that almost 200,000 small businesses have fallen into arrears on their bounce back loan repayments – well above the figures previously announced by the British Business Bank.
What’s not clear is the extent to which these arrears are due to fraud or alternatively genuine borrowers struggling to make scheduled repayments. Should we be more concerned by the level of potential fraud, or by the possibility that a large number of British businesses are now struggling to make ends meet?
Also, the figures relate to the Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS) only – which entitled small businesses to borrow loans of up to £50,000. The scale of arrears on the other government-backed pandemic loan support measures – including the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) and the Recovery Loan Scheme (RLS) is not covered by the report.
However, what is clear from the latest figures published by the Insolvency Service for June 2022 is that the number of registered company insolvencies in England and Wales is only going in one direction – upwards. Whilst the UK is currently sweltering in record hot temperatures, storm clouds are brewing what with rising inflation, higher interest rates, a fall in consumer spending and global supply chain disruption. Something tells me that whoever gets elected as the new Tory leader and next Prime Minister will likely be distracted by current events rather than fixing the problems associated with past Covid loan fraud.