The head of what is set to become the first Scottish-based challenger bank has said the organisation is gearing up for a multi-million pound funding round ahead of next year’s launch into the market for small and medium-sized businesses, Kristy Dorsey writes in this week's Monday Interview.

Glasgow-based Alba Bank expects to receive a restricted licence to accept deposits from the Prudential Regulation Authority by the end of next month, which will authorise it to take a total of about £50,000 as a way of testing its systems and procedures. Chief executive Rod Ashley, the former head of Airdrie Savings Bank, said Alba is in initial conversations about raising £20-£25 million to cover its first years in operation, which is required to move from a restricted to full banking licence.

In Mark Williamson’s SME Focus, Thomas Chisholm of Buck & Birch Ltd based in Macmerry, East Lothian, which specialises in liqueurs, spirits, cocktails and events, reveals: “The last few months have had a huge impact on the whole world and as a business we have had to adapt to survive.

"Staff were furloughed and we had to find other revenue streams as the hospitality trade, tourism and retail that we traditionally relied on disappeared over night. Thankfully, we were able to innovate new product ranges and focus on building our relationship with customers through our online platforms.

“Our bottle cocktail range, in particular, has proved a real success and our online sales are up 630% on last year. The lockdown has also given us an opportunity to reflect on our business and develop a new plan for the future.

“Markets are slowly returning, which is heartening to see and we look forward to bringing our team back over the coming weeks.”

In this week’s Business Voices, Guy Stenhouse suggests Scottish ministers should focus on using the powers they have, declaring: “The reality is Scotland has a very significant underlying fiscal deficit even before account is taken of the damage caused by Covid-19.”

The full articles will be published in print and online on Monday.

Business Week: Jobs lost as Glasgow 'institution' stays closed | Rangers FC sells 30,000 tops in 48 hours | Diageo's Johnnie Walker whisky centre delayed

Also this week, investors in Sports Direct owner Frasers Group are hoping that the company will have been boosted by strong online and reopening sales when it reveals the impact of the pandemic for the first time.

Mike Ashley's retail vehicle has remained quiet throughout the crisis so far, as high street rivals have announced job cuts and store closures.

Shareholders will therefore be keen to understand the ramifications of the retail group closing its stores for around three months when it announces its full-year figures on Thursday.

The retailer shut its stores in March, after facing fierce criticism for initially claiming Sports Direct was an essential operator for keeping the nation fit in a bid to keep stores open.

Mr Ashley later apologised for "ill-judged and poorly timed" emails to the Government and poor communication with employees.

The group has now reopened stores, but sales are expected to be significantly lower amid social distancing restrictions and lower footfall.

Sophie Lund-Yates, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: "We've said before that coronavirus will seriously interrupt revenues and profits, we just don't know by how much.

"It's reasonable to expect that online sales have done well - scores of us were scrabbling for sports equipment and workout gear in the early days of lockdown.
"The question will be to what degree this has plugged the overall sales gap."

Its full-year results will cover the year to April so may only represent some of the disruption caused by the pandemic, but investors will also be keen to hear how the company is progressing with its long-term transformation plan.

The group recently acquired a 6.1% stake in Hugo Boss as it looks to invest in higher-end brands as part of its bid to become more upmarket.

Investors will also be keen to find out if the company plans to shake up its store portfolio, as rivals agree rent deals with landlords and shut sites.

Last month, the retail group warned it will have to review the future of some of its stores in light of the Government's decision to delay the revaluation of business rates.

The company said it looked on "with anguish and bewilderment" after it was announced that the next valuation of the property tax will take place in 2023.

Mr Ashley has been a harsh critic of the Government's current business rates model, but its outlook is set to be significantly boosted by the Chancellor's decision to wipe out the tax for retailers for the current financial year.

The business rates holiday is expected to save the retail group and its subsidiaries around £91.2 million for the 2020/21 financial year, according to real estate adviser Altus Group.