A BUSINESS bank has taken the unusual step of setting aside £20 million of funding specifically to back firms set up by the Scottish-Italian community.
Allied Irish Bank (GB), which focuses on working with owner-managed businesses, said the funding came on the back of its support for the Scottish Italian awards which were staged earlier this month to highlight the achievements of entrepreneurs from the community.
Scotland has long been home to many thriving Italian family firms, including retailers Valvona & Crolla and Margiotta in Edinburgh, ice-cream firms Nardini’s of Largs and S Luca of Musselburgh, and pizza manufacturer Cosmo’s of Bonnyrigg.
The funding announcement comes as Billy MacLeod was recently appointed as the bank’s first regional director for Scotland, where it operates offices in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
One of the first businesses to benefit is Franchi Law, a Scottish Italian legal practice based in Glasgow which has been a client of AIB (GB) for more than 20 years. AIB (GB) has recently agreed new funding to help them expand their operations.
Leandro Franchi, partner of the firm, said: “We are positive about the current business climate and with the help of AIB (GB) are able to act on this confidence.”
AIB (GB) now operates from 16 locations across Great Britain and employs more than 600 staff. In the first half of 2015 it increased its new business lending year on year for the first half of 2015 to £768m from £498m at the same point in 2014, a 54 per cent increase.
To support the bank’s growth, AIB (GB) has recently recruited six relationship managers across Great Britain since the beginning of the summer.
A survey carried out by AIB (GB) in September found that its core owner-manager customer base were more optimistic about their business prospects than they were 12 months ago.
In its second annual survey of more than 300 businesses across the UK, the bank found that more than six in ten (62 per cent) expect the economic situation to improve in the next year, and nine in ten (90 per cent) are optimistic about future business prospects.
One in three firms say they are currently in a growth phase – up 3 percentage points from last year and 60 per cent of businesses say that the best days for their businesses lie ahead.
Larger businesses are even more optimistic, with 81 per cent of businesses with turnovers of £51m to £100m now more positive about their businesses.
But businesses continue to be cautions of macro-economic headwinds, with 20 per cent rating Eurozone instability as the biggest issue facing the UK economy and one in ten saying the upcoming referendum on UK membership in the European Union was the biggest risk.
AIB (GB) is part of Irish state-based lender Allied Irish Banks (AIB) which earlier this month released half-year results which showed it had reduced its bad loans and almost tripled pre-tax profits.
The Irish government has put ¤21 billion (£14.8bn) into AIB since the financial crisis. The bank recently received approval from European regulators to repay ¤1.7bn of state bail-out funds and will repay another ¤1.6bn next July.