FIRST Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said the prospect of Brexit makes the case for a National Investment Bank even stronger as she confirmed the Scottish Government will establish one.

Speaking after the publication of an implementation plan prepared by banking sector heavyweight Benny Higgins, Ms Sturgeon said the body could help boost Scotland’s growth rate while helping to address societal challenges such as those posed by an ageing population.

“The time for debate about whether or not this is a good idea has passed, it’s time to get on with making it happen,” said the First Minister.

The Scottish Government is determined to move at pace. It expects the bank to start operating in shadow form next year, and to become established as an independent organisation in 2020-21.

It has earmarked around £500 million funding to support the bank’s work in the first three years, including £340m new money.

Asked if the prospect of Brexit next year could complicate the plan to establish an investment bank, Ms Sturgeon said: “In my view Brexit makes the imperative of doing this all the stronger.”

She added: “We know what the economic headwinds will be that Brexit will deliver so the need to make sure that we are focussing as rigorously as we can on what we need to do to help protect our economy, to help grow our economy becomes all the more important.”

Ms Sturgeon said the implementation report conveyed a strong sense of what an investment bank will be able to achieve in terms of stimulating the economy while helping meet wider objectives.

“We have the potential here to genuinely place Scotland at the forefront of economic change and innovation,” noted Ms Sturgeon, who held out the prospect the country could be one that designs and develops the defining technologies of the future.

She added: “If we get it right this has the potential to be truly transformative.”

Mr Higgins, who retired from Tesco Bank yesterday after 10 years in charge, said the rigorous review he led had convinced him the case for creating a national investment bank was incontrovertible.

“It’s not novel … but it’s right for Scotland and it needs to be now,” he said, noting the impact achieved by investment banks in other countries such as Germany.

The role of the bank will be to promote inclusive economic growth by providing patient, long term finance for small and medium sized enterprises with strong growth potential and for larger projects that will help transform the economy.

The initial focus will include helping to fill the funding gap faced by firms with good growth potential that are seeking £2 million to £10m funding.

The report notes the bank may need to help kick start investment in infrastructure projects the private sector is not supporting, citing transport, housing and low carbon technology.

The aim will be to complement private sector investment without crowding it out. Mr Higgins said the bank needs to be supported by at least £2 billion long-term capital over the first 10 years. He suggested it could borrow a further £4bn.

The Scottish Government has started discussions with the Treasury regarding how the bank could operate. The annual running costs of the bank are expected to be up to £30m, with 100 to 150 people working for it. No decision has been made on where it will be based.

The government has not decided how the existing Scottish Investment Bank and its programmes will be integrated with the new bank. This is expected to operate independently within a framework agreed with ministers.