A year of CBILS: What have we learnt and what does the future hold?

Andy Davies is managing director at White Oak Leases & Loans


No business could have predicted or planned for the shock of the last year. As a business lender, the pandemic has fundamentally changed our understanding of the role that we play in supporting commerce. Business lenders have transformed from a support system for individual businesses into an essential lifeline for the economy.

Emergency government loan schemes have been at the heart of this transformation. Last March, the Chancellor announced the launch of the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans Scheme (CBILS), an emergency scheme designed as a short-term solution to what was hopefully expected to be a short-term problem. Just over a year later, the scheme has channelled over £23bn into the UK’s SMEs across 98,300-plus approved loans.

As CBILS comes to an end, we are proud to have played a part in providing over £300m to SMEs across the UK. One of the positive things we have seen throughout the scheme is that these loans have not only helped businesses weather the storm, they have also positioned them for growth as we emerge on the other side.

It has been incredible to see so many of our clients access what were initially emergency loans to support cash flow and retain staff, and later use these to begin gearing up for expansion in 2021. We have provided CBILS loans to over 1,350 businesses in the past year across a huge array of different sectors, but several in particular have epitomised the power of the CBILS scheme.

At the end of 2020, we worked with Amber Support Services, a leading provider of support services to adults with learning and physical disabilities throughout Warwickshire and Worcestershire, founded and run by Jacqueline de Sousa.

Jacqueline and the management team had developed ambitious growth plans for Amber Support Services in 2020, but like so many businesses, these plans were thrown into disarray last March as the pandemic took hold. Jacqueline and her team had to come up with new and innovative ways to provide crucial support to their clients, many of whom needed to self-isolate following government guidelines.

A CBILS loan supported Amber Support Services as they diversified their offering and created a range of online support services for their clients. After a difficult year, Jacqueline says that a CBILS loan has now positioned the company to open their first care home in 2021.

Another company that we are proud to have supported through the pandemic was Air & Ground, one of the world’s leading specialists in products and services for both military and civil aviation, and the sea and security sectors. The civil aviation sector faced a near complete shutdown through the first months of the pandemic which disrupted one of Air & Ground’s key markets. But as aviation firms struggled under this disruption, Air & Ground had an essential supporting role to play.

When Air & Ground’s existing lender was unable to offer financial support in the middle of the pandemic, we provided a CBILS loan so they could continue to provide crucial services to embattled aviation businesses. After surviving the turbulence of the pandemic, Air & Ground is now positioned to thrive and expand as they look ahead to recovery.

The CBILS scheme has provided a lifeline to so many businesses through the worst of the pandemic and a platform to drive the recovery. But after shifting onto an emergency footing, lenders must now look to the future. All government schemes are winding down this year and traditional modes of lending will come back to the fore. While the outlook is positive, uncertainty will continue to pervade the business landscape and cash reserves will be more important than ever. Lenders will continue to play a crucial part in helping the UK’s SMEs drive the economic recovery this year.


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