BEF aims to lend £6m to firms this year

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Meg Heath joined the Business Enterprise Fund (BEF) eight years ago at a point when the fund lent a few hundred thousand pounds a year. This year, they will lend more than £6m.

The social enterprise, that helps businesses across West and North Yorkshire, has just expanded into York, opening a new office in Blake Street and creating five jobs.

The York office is the base of two new investment managers, David Winspear and Simon Middleton, who have recently joined the team. They will work alongside Alison Senior, co-ordinator for marketing and Hamish Rushworth, an investor manager and business mentor Rupert Shires, who will all be based in Bradford.

In the last decade since its creation, BEF has loaned over £10m which has assisted almost 1,500 businesses across West and North Yorkshire of which 940 were new businesses, creating more than 1,000 jobs.

Fund director Stephen Waud said the move into a third office in York in addition to Bradford and Leeds was due to the record number of businesses that were started in the city in 2013. With 288 businesses starting in the third quarter of last year BEF saw a growing need for financial and mentoring support in the city.

“We’re delighted to welcome our new recruits to our team to support BEF with its current expansion plan and I’m sure they will be great assets to us as they are all joining with a wealth of experience gained over a number of years in their relevant sectors from which we and our clients can only benefit,” Mr Waud said.

In the last year he said: “We have facilitated more than 200 loans at a value of £4.15m and created hundreds of jobs which has culminated in BEF being shortlisted at the Bradford Means Business Awards.”

Meg Heath joined as part of the lending team and is now deputy fund director and oversees its lending teams in York, Bradford and Leeds.

Her background includes working for a management consultancy, a textile manufacture that serviced the African market as well as a stint running her own consultancy and e-commerce business.

Since BEF began life, she says growth has: “Enabled us to service the West and North Yorkshire markets more effectively, extending our reach. Being established for 10 years means more people are aware of us and we can help more of our target market.”

However, she says the challenges ahead include: “Representing the need of businesses that do not have access to mainstream finance at a local and national level. The SME market is crucial to the economy and support to enable growth, increased employment and up-skilling is required.”

The UK has the highest concentration of lenders in Europe with five banks accounting for 90 per cent of all lending. She added: “With the introduction of new banks over the next few years we are likely to see new bank entrants that focus on specific sectors of the market. As we lend to those the high street can’t lend to we do not compete with the mainstream banks. There is room for us all, it takes time but customer choice will increase.”

She believes the market will be diluted by new entrants and this is necessary in order to open up funding to areas that are currently finding accessing finance difficult. “The use of electronic banking will also have a huge effect on how we bank and how we borrow,” she noted.

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