National investment banks
State-backed investment banks exist to provide finance where private banks may be reluctant to do so – in disadvantaged regions, new technologies or in sectors where returns are not considered high enough or too risky.
They are particularly valuable for providing 'patient' capital. This is long-term finance that is beyond the time horizon of most commercial banking but which is essential for innovation and strategic economic development. In very different circumstances, China and Germany both provide evidence.
The UK is unique among major advanced economies in not having a national investment bank. Its advocates argue that such a bank would increase investment in innovation and meeting major mission-focused industrial transformations, such as building a green economy. The depth of the economic crisis caused by Covid-19, and its potential impacts on private finance, has added new urgency to these proposals.
Giles Wilkes argues for the Institute of Government that the scale of economic turmoil unleashed by Covid-19 means new institutions will be needed to support investment financing, including a publicly-owned State Reconstruction Bank.
For the Progressive Economy Forum, Professor Stephany Griffiths-Jones and Peter Rice explore key questions for the design of a UK National Investment Bank, including getting its mandate right, and funding and oversight models.
The UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose examines the design and record of national investment banks in eight countries across the world, and draws lessons on how such banks can best provide patient, strategic and 'mission-oriented' finance.
Scottish National Investment Bank
There has been a Development Bank of Wales since 2017, and a Scottish National Investment Bank was launched in late 2020, supported by £2 billion of public funding over its first ten years.
The bank's mandate is to finance investment to realise Scottish economic priorities, including a greener economy. Some claim its mandate is not tight enough and it should be more deliberately focused on helping Scotland respond to environmental breakdown and supporting ethical investment.
UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose sets out a framework for a mission-focused Scottish National Investment Bank. This maps different potential national missions such as decarbonisation to the sectors and solutions that are most in need. It also recommends meaningful public participation in deciding these missions, and for specific, measurable targets to judge whether they are being delivered.
Friends of the Earth Scotland and others have campaigned to secure a more specific set of ethical investment criteria and low-carbon purpose to the Scottish National Investment Bank.
Local and regional banking
Geographically-focused banks can play a major role in boosting investment, particularly in disadvantaged areas. They can help to retain wealth within local areas and support greater economic resilience. Distinct from merely the local branch of a high street bank, there are two types of such bank.
The first are localised branches of publicly-owned national investment banks, with a specific remit to support the investment needs of local areas. In the UK it has been proposed that this could be done by creating publicly-owned Post Banks through the Post Office network, or by the government retaining its stake in the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and repurposing it as a series of local banks.
An alternative model would see the expansion of locally-focused cooperative, credit union and community finance organisations. Such institutions have a greater emphasis on high-street and branch banking and excel at lending to smaller businesses.
There is a growing movement to create a network of regionally owned and controlled mutual banks, where customers automatically become co-owners.
All In, the Royal Society of Arts and others make the case for a community savings bank for the North East, in response to the abandonment of many communities due to the closure of retail bank branches. South West Mutual is aiming to be a regional high street bank exclusively focused on the south west of England.
The New Economics Foundation proposes that the UK government retains its majority stake in the Royal Bank of Scotland and transforms it into a public banking network.
The Communication Workers Union and the Democracy Collaborative propose the creation of a publicly owned Post Bank network supported by regional development banks.
Common Weal presents the case for a local, mutually-owned 'public-good banking network' in Scotland to restore bank branches to communities which have lost them.
The New Economics Foundation explores the benefits of cooperative banking. It cites international evidence showing that mutually-owned banks are more focused on supporting high streets, are better at lending to SMEs, and are likely to be better managed and more stable in a crisis. It has published a guide for those who might wish to establish a new regional community bank.