Helping Scotland weather the coronavirus storm - comment
We are living in extraordinary times. Virtually every aspect of our lives has been turned upside down by coronavirus. Across Scotland, we are all now confronted with new realities and difficult choices, both in terms of work and our support for loved ones and our communities.
Beyond the health emergency and the extraordinary contribution of the NHS, one of the biggest challenges we all face is how to minimise the economic and financial impact of the pandemic, for individuals, families and for businesses.
Whilst the future is uncertain, financial services providers such as Lloyds Banking Group – and many others – have a vitally important role to play in providing support to the people and businesses of Scotland.
For example, for personal customers needing immediate support we’ve introduced payment holidays on loans, credit card repayments, car repayments and mortgages, alongside access to interest-free overdrafts of up to £500. This is helping to ease the financial shock until it’s safe for us all to return to some of the things we know and value as normal everyday life.
It has never been more important that we focus on those who need help the most, so in addition to our regular telephone and internet banking systems, we’ve set up dedicated services for those classed as vulnerable due to the outbreak. This includes a dedicated helpline for the over-70s, and calls from NHS employees being given priority so they can focus on their vital work.
We’re also working with our charity partner Mental Health UK and The Silver Line, a partner to Age UK, to provide both practical and emotional support to help people’s mental and financial health.
We also know that many of our customers need support to access banking services online. Late last year we found that 22 per cent of people in Scotland don’t have the necessary digital skills and struggle with tasks like connecting to the internet and managing online security passwords. To help overcome this, we’ve partnered with We Are Digital to help people to get online and to stay safe, avoiding scams and misuse of information.
These are crucial practical things that make a real difference in helping Scottish families through this crisis and come through the other side. It is equally vital we play our full part in supporting the wider Scottish economy and its businesses.
In addition to my role at Lloyds Banking Group, I am chair of Scottish Financial Enterprise. This has given me a broader insight into the challenges facing firms of all sizes – and the support the financial services sector as a whole is delivering.
Understandably, there has been a focus from both the media and politicians on the UK Government’s CBILS (Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme) and the other initiatives designed to give businesses access to the funding they need to sustain themselves for the future.
The banking sector is working closely with the UK Government to implement these schemes and we are now seeing their positive impact. For example, Forth Resource Management, a company that recycles more than 100,000 tonnes of organic waste for local councils and landscapers across South-east Scotland each year, has seen its online sales more than triple having changed the focus of its operations in response to coronavirus with the support of a six-figure loan from Bank of Scotland as part of CBILS.
We also welcome the introduction of the new Bounce Back lending scheme, which launches today, providing a fast-track solution for those smaller businesses that are in need of support now and as they move to reopen for business.
From the tens of thousands of conversations we have had with our small and medium-sized business customers, most don’t want to take on additional borrowing at this time. Instead, they want to reduce overheads by seeking shorter-term cashflow solutions like capital repayment holidays and fee-free overdraft extensions, which at Lloyds we have been able to support via a dedicated £2 billion coronavirus fund.
Our data also shows many micro-businesses, such as sole traders, are supporting themselves by seeking help with their personal finances. I would encourage all concerned about the financial impact of coronavirus to speak to their bank or financial services provider to explore support available.
Finally, I would like to say a huge thank you to the thousands of my colleagues in financial services in Scotland who have worked tirelessly to serve our business and personal customers throughout the crisis. Scotland is home to a diverse and successful financial services industry, with more than 160,000 workers.
Whatever the immediate challenges ahead, our role is to lessen the current financial impact and to support wholeheartedly the recovery of the economy, people and businesses of the Scotland we all value so much.
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