Banker upbeat about prospects for region — in spite of pandemic

Dav Atkinson, regional director for the East of England at Lloyds Bank Picture: DANIEL GRAVES PHOT

Dav Atkinson, regional director for the East of England at Lloyds Bank Picture: DANIEL GRAVES PHOTOGRAPHY - Credit: Archant

A banking boss has offered an upbeat assessment of the longer term state of the East of England economy — despite the dire effects of the pandemic on the region.

Dave Atkinson, regional director at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said firms were proving agile in dealing with the crisis.

“The region has not been immune from the challenges of course,” he said. But the region — which contains 9% of the UK population and generates 9% of its gross domestic product — was punching its weight, he added.

MORE — Jobs blow for Suffolk town as silk factory plunges into administration“Pre-Covid 2020-23 it was forecast to grow 1.8% to 2% which is one of the fastest in the UK,” he pointed out. Its “eclectic mix” of growth opportunities meant the region was still well placed, and businesses here remain confident about the future. There was “no reason” it shouldn’t bounce back post-crisis, he said.

It would be down to businesses’ agility and ability to move into difference markets or do things differently, he said.

Among the businesses it has helped through loans is the owner White Enamel Dental Practice in Ipswich which has also taken on a practice in Diss. An injection of more than £540k is helping it expand in both towns.

Meanwhile, Watton-based independent housebuilder Abel Homes is seeing a renewed surge in demand for its properties thanks to a £3m green funding package from Lloyds Bank to help it build more energy-efficient properties.

One “really pleasing” development was that lots of firms were moving their offer online, with a bank survey suggesting that people in the region were embracing digital skills.

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“There are a lot of things that local businesses and local people should be really proud of,” he said. “I think the region has put itself in a good place.”

But the region had faced challenges, particularly in tourist and coastal towns, he said. “Equally, we have got an incredibly strong construction sector,” he added.

Firms are expected to shed staff over the next six months. While government support had provided a lifeline for some, the second lockdown had hit the forward momentum of some companies, particularly in tourism, hospitality, non-essential retail, beauty and other service-based operations.

“Our sole purpose at the moment is to help the UK to recover,” he said. Since the start of the year, Lloyds had loaned £1.7bn to firms in the East of England, supporting them through a variety of schemes including the Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS), the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) and the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS).

“We have already seen businesses that have demonstrated real agility to try new ways of trading,” he said. But businesses will face bigger cash challenges emerging from the crisis than going into it, he warned. “It’s businesses that run out of cash that fail,” he said. He advised firms to “reach out” and seek advice and support from professionals and business organisations.

“Sometimes businesses just do find it really difficult and they have no options available to them and therefore of course regrettably we do and I am sure we will see some business failures.”