British Business Bank data reveals soaring equity investment in Scotland’s small businesses during 2021

Mark Sterritt, UK Network Director, Scotland, at the British Business Bank

EQUITY investment in Scotland’s smaller businesses reached £403 million by the end of 2021’s third quarter, more than double the same period in 2020, according to new research from the British Business Bank.

Total investment values increased by 141% compared to the first nine months of 2020 and were already 42% ahead of the £283 million registered for the full year. Across the UK, overall equity investment was on track to double from the £8.8 billion seen in 2020.

The British Business Bank’s eighth annual Small Business Finance Markets report, published today, also found that there were 147 equity deals in Scotland in the first three quarters of 2021, equating to 8% of the UK’s equity deal activity – higher than Scotland’s 6% share of the business population.

Demand for finance in Scotland remains robust, with 30% of smaller businesses surveyed stating they would be happy to use finance to grow. On the supply side, 2021 saw growth in Scotland’s local venture capital sector, with 65 unique investors now involved in venture capital investing, nearly double the 33 identified in 2017.

Despite the positives seen in Scotland, geographic imbalances in finance remain, resulting in an uneven economic landscape across the UK. In the October 2021 Spending Review, the government announced £150 million to provide a new fund for Scottish businesses, administered by the British Business Bank.  The Bank will be working with Scottish Enterprise, the Scottish National Investment Bank and local stakeholders to deliver this increased support, with further details to be announced in due course.

A further £150 million for the Bank’s Regional Angels Programme, which committed £15 million to Edinburgh-based Par Equity in 2020, was also announced in the Spending Review. 

Mark Sterritt, UK Network Director, Scotland at the British Business Bank, said: “Last year saw the Scottish business community focusing on recovery, with both investor confidence and demand for finance picking up accordingly. As illustrated in the latest figures, it was a particularly strong year for equity investment in smaller businesses, with the value of deals in 2021 significantly ahead of 2020 by the end of the third quarter.”

“This year will hopefully see more of a return to normality and continued economic recovery, which should lessen the impact of debt repayments on smaller businesses. That said, there may be additional economic issues to contend with in the form of energy price increases and supply chain pressures.”

“Nevertheless, it is important that smaller businesses at any stage of their growth can access the funding they need to achieve their goals, regardless of their location. We have a range of programmes already in place to address geographical funding gaps and will see that expanded further in due course with a new dedicated fund for Scotland.”

In addition to the growth in equity finance, the report indicates that UK debt markets overall are returning to near pre-pandemic levels.  Challenger and specialist banks accounted for just over half of the bank lending market (51%) – a record share, up from 32% in 2020.

The amount of debt held by smaller businesses has significantly increased compared to pre-pandemic levels due to businesses accessing the government’s Covid-19 emergency finance schemes. At their peak in March 2021, smaller business debt stocks were estimated to be 30% up. Encouragingly, however, debt repayments are becoming a smaller share of businesses cash flow as UK economic recovery helps boost their turnover.

The report from the British Business Bank also looked at various factors impacting entrepreneurs’ willingness and ability to access finance. It reported that while ethnic minority-led businesses are more open to using finance, they are less likely to obtain it, and twice as likely to see access to finance as an obstacle to running their businesses.  Amongst female-led businesses, appetite for external finance has significantly increased to 31% in Q2 2020-Q2 2021, but remains lower than for male-led businesses at 39%.

Additionally, the report found that in 2021, almost half (47%) of smaller businesses viewed reducing their carbon emissions or environmental impact to be a priority for their business and one in five (22%) would use external finance to help transition their business to net zero. In contrast, almost three quarters of smaller businesses (71%) viewed maintaining or increasing sales to be a high priority.

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