The proposed Development Bank for Wales should have the aspiration of doubling the financial fire power it provides to SMEs in the first five years, believes the chief executive of Finance Wales Giles Thorley.
Mr Thorley, who took up his role with Finance Wales – which is wholly-owned by the Welsh Government – last April, told Cardiff Breakfast Club that it was working on a business plan for a development bank.
Such an organisation was a condition of Plaid Cymru’s support that enabled the re-appointment of Carwyn Jones as First Minister following last month’s Assembly Election.
While any business plan would need to be agreed by the Welsh Government with backing from Plaid, it is most likely that Finance Wales’ existing remit would be changed and expanded, rather than an entirely new bank being established.
Speaking at the SSE Swalec Stadium, Mr Thorley, a former chief executive of Punch Taverns, said: “Let me let you into a secret – on almost every definition Finance Wales is already a development bank.”
However, he said that unlike the vast majority of publicly-owned development banks globally, Finance Wales was hindered by the fact that it is unable to provide guarantees or borrow itself.
He said: “Currently we don’t utilise guarantees, we don’t borrow and we are funded by a combination of find management fees and direct budget transfer.
“We therefore need to look at the structures of the organisation to maximise the efficiency of the balance sheet and capital and in doing so maximise the resources that we can invest into the Welsh economy.”
Catalyst for change
He added: “I have undertaken to see how the development bank can be a catalyst for bringing together a number of parties and investigate other areas of the economy that need to be addressed such as housing demand [Finance Wales manages the Help to Buy Wales scheme, smaller scale infrastructure projects or housing solutions for housing for older people.
“This all adds up to an aspiration to double our investments within the next five years.”
It is understood that subject to legal sign off, Finance Wales will manage and run the Welsh Government’s new £136m Wales Business Fund.
He described the performance of Finance Wales over the past 16 years as “impressive,” with almost 4,000 companies receiving financial supporting – helping SMES to create and safeguard 40,000 jobs – with a total impact on the Welsh economy of £1.6bn.
He added “I am genuinely surprised by the extent of the bad press that the organisation received in the last few years.
“It seems clear to me that Finance Wales forgot to manage its stakeholders in the manner that it should have done and it has been taken to task for this, but its performance in the last 16 years is nonetheless impressive.”
Mr Thorley said that Wales was in a globally competitive market place for investment.
He asked: “So why on earth would a company locate in Wales?
He added: “I hope that we are all proponents of and can influence the reasons for someone to come here, but unless we all work together and provide seamless and professional solutions to these new businesses, we’ll be beaten by those places in the world or even elsewhere in the UK that can, and will.”
Mr Thorley said that Finance Wales also needed to ensure its lending products, from debt to equity and those it manages on behalf of the Welsh Government, were marketed more effectively.
He said: “Currently we rely on intermediaries to provide the link between us and SME community.
“However, there is a significant part of the SME community that are not aware of our services. We need to make access easier and we need to find smarter ways of engaging SMEs and prospective entrepreneurs to get access to capital easily using technology, targeted marketing and working with a wider range of intermediaries.”
He also confirmed that it is working with a number of universities in Wales to create an “intelligence unit” so that the Finance Wales becomes better informed about the state of the economy from the perspective of its ‘target customers” and in turn the products and services that it needs to provide.
Cardiff Breakfast Club is sponsored by Stills Branding, Blake Morgan, Lloyds Banking and the Western Mail.
Credit: Sion Barry, Mail Online