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Ulster Bank urging new approach to handling of corporate indebtedness

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Solutions: Mark Crimmins

Solutions: Mark Crimmins

Solutions: Mark Crimmins

Ulster Bank has called for "new thinking" to propel economic recovery, including helping firms deal with debt taken out to survive the Covid-19 crisis.

The bank also revealed it has lent out over £215m under the Government's Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS).

It has also extended borrowing to clients under the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, as well as giving businesses capital repayment holidays, overdrafts and overdraft extensions.

Around 7,000 firms have received £215m from Ulster Bank through BBLS, an average of £30,700 each. The maximum that can be borrowed under the scheme is £50,000.

The Government guarantees 100% of the BBLS, which is fee-free and interest-free during the first 12 months.

An interest rate of 2.5% is charged after the first year.

Mark Crimmins, head of Ulster Bank, said the support had helped keep businesses going and saved jobs during lockdown.

But he said new ideas were needed to support recovery and that Government, businesses and banks would have to work together.

"We need to look towards the next phases of the crisis, quickly identify the opportunities presented to Northern Ireland but also deal with the many structural challenges that the crisis has left including overall levels of corporate indebtedness," he said.

"Generally, businesses had been de-gearing before coronavirus and whilst it was right to get funding urgently into the economy, many of our businesses have taken on additional debt which may constrain their future investment intentions. Strategic solutions to corporate indebtedness may be required."

And he said "significant" discussion was needed at the highest level to come up with ideas, adding that "very little should be off the table given the scale of the challenge".

Ulster Bank clients who have taken out CBILS loans include pub business Dorman's in Mid Ulster, plumbing merchant Stevenson and Reid and logistics company W.S. Dennison. It said that in the initial weeks after lockdown it approved more than 95% of business customer requests for support.

Mr Crimmins spoke after parent company NatWest Group announced a £2.1bn hit from the impact of coronavirus - worse than the most dire prediction.

NatWest Group's second quarter impairment charge was set aside to cover the bad debts that it thinks might be on its books. It pushed the bank into a loss for the first half of the financial year.

Pre-tax loss was £770m, a swing from a £2.7bn profit in the same period a year earlier. Ulster Bank's financial performance is combined in the group results.

Belfast Telegraph