Public bank boss to reapply for job in COVID loan fraud line | Economic news

The British Business Bank (BBB) ​​boss is being forced to reapply for the job amid a growing row over the role of the public lender administering billions of pounds in fraudulent pandemic loans.

Sky News has learned that Catherine Lewis La Torre, who has served as the BBB’s acting chief executive since September 2020, has informed colleagues that she plans to seek the job on a permanent basis.

The government is leading a process to appoint a permanent successor to Keith Morgan, who was the institution’s first CEO and led it for about six years after its launch.

A deadline for applications has been set for early February and Ms Lewis La Torre is said to be a serious candidate for the post.

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However, bank executives said on Thursday that his candidacy could be complicated by the controversy that erupted this week when Lord Agnew resigned as minister, chastising the government’s approach to preventing fraud in the government’s COVID-19 loan schemes.

Lord Agnew expressed concern that the banks were not doing enough to tackle the problem and asked whether the BBB held them accountable to protect taxpayers’ money.

Many people in the banking industry had assumed that Ms Lewis La Torre had already been appointed permanent CEO of the BBB because she had held the interim position for so long.

His biography on the BBB website makes no reference to the fact that his role is temporary.

The search for a permanent leader is led by Ridgeway Partners, a headhunting firm.

A British Business Bank spokesman declined to comment on the search for a CEO, but said of Lord Agnew’s comments: “British Business Bank has stepped up to set up the Bounce Back loan scheme on behalf of the government to ensure that access to finance is available at pace and at scale during the pandemic.

“The Bank ensured that key anti-fraud measures in line with the system’s self-certification design were in place from the outset.”

The spokesperson cited a report by the National Audit Office which found that “most companies have started repaying their loans” and data released by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the BBB’ showing [that] the overwhelming majority of businesses meet their monthly repayments”.

The BBB has been closely involved in the design of the various Treasury emergency loan programs during the pandemic.

It was unclear on Thursday who else was in the role of BBB chief, who carries a basic annual salary of around £173,000.

Last year Ms Lewis La Torre won a total package worth £295,400.

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