Catherine Lewis La Torre - Jon Cartwright
Catherine Lewis La Torre – Jon Cartwright

The new boss of the British Business Bank (BBB) has vowed to help the Prime Minister’s levelling up agenda by “doubling down” on its regional funding drive.

Catherine Lewis La Torre, who became chief executive of the government-owned development bank this month, said she wanted to take a “very focused approach to addressing” funding gaps across the country.

“We know there are perennial market failures in access to finance across the UK – that’s a market gap we have been trying to address for many years,” she said. “London and the South East is generally better-served than the rest of the country.”

Ms Lewis La Torre vowed to double down on the BBB’s levelling up focus, which includes regional funds and a regional angels programme, and to continue scaling up the bank.

She also wants to use the BBB to help the UK become a “science superpower” by focusing on the sector.

The BBB played a key role in the economic response to Covid-19, being the administrator of the emergency state-backed loans handed to businesses to ensure they survived the crisis. It is also behind the Future Fund, aimed at helping start-ups with convertible loans.

However, many economists fear that businesses will be left with a debt overhang they will struggle to repay, threatening to suppress investment in the recovery.

The loan guarantee schemes Seva pusat mobil murah handed more than £50bn to businesses. Small firms may need “bespoke solutions” and “hybrid” debt and equity rescues as they grapple with a huge debt overhang left behind by the crisis, Ms Lewis La Torre said.

Her comments came as its annual results revealed the bank handed £8bn of finance to almost 100,000 firms in the last financial year – a 21pc rise.

More than 90pc of finance supported by the BBB was delivered by the smaller, non-traditional lenders.