British businesses have come out of 2020 having borrowed huge amounts of money to get them through the year, as the Government backed banks to encourage them to lend.
More than £68 billion has been borrowed by businesses in loans that are partly or fully guaranteed by the Treasury.
It has meant a four-fold increase in business lending this year, as companies scrambled for cash to keep them afloat through the Covid-19 crisis, according to Bank of England statistics from earlier this month.
By far the most popular loan scheme was the Bounce Back Loan Scheme, which helped funnel £43.5 billion to 1.4 million companies.
But it also proved the most controversial. The loan, for up to £50,000, was available to businesses with minimum checks. For the first month there was nothing stopping one company from getting several bounce back loans by going to different banks.
Early on, HM Revenue & Customs estimated that between 5% and 10% of the loans could have gone to businesses that should not have been given them.
The loans have also proven very important to companies, with many being able to survive because of the money they provided.
Many businesses have instead been worried about the money not being paid out quickly enough, or at all.
And although the loan scheme has been extended until the end of March, many are reportedly struggling to get loans.
“The only problem with extending the scheme is that … no lenders bar Starling Bank (are) offering new customers accounts and then letting them apply for a BBL (bounce back loan),” according to Mr Bounce Back, a popular blog which has supported hundreds of bounce back loan takers through the crisis.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has promised a new scheme to replace the Government-backed loans after they come to an end, but few details have been released.
Over the year, the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), its sister for larger companies CLBILS, and the Bank of England’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility, have also provided billions of pounds to businesses.
Meanwhile, the furlough scheme has supported 9.9 million employees, covering £46 billion of their salaries.
The loan money itself was provided by regular high street banks across the UK.
Barclays, for instance, said this month it had facilitated over £26 billion in lending because of the four schemes.