A year after the Scottish Government announced it had appointed a heavy hitter to run the new Scottish National Investment Bank questions about what the organisation is for are getting ever louder.

In April last year Eilidh MacTaggart was appointed to run the bank on a base salary of £235,000, as it became clear the coronavirus crisis was going to put a massive strain on Scotland’s economy.

After a successful career in infrastructure finance with the likes of ABN Amro and MetLife, Ms MacTaggart was tasked with delivering on bold claims that the new bank could play a transformational role in the economy. As others focused on responding to the short-term strains on business, there was chance for the bank to help Scotland respond to longer term challenges such as climate change.

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With a £2 billion budget to be spread over ten years the bank has plenty of firepower at its disposal.

At the official launch of the new bank in November First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it would help to tackle some of the biggest challenges the country faced while delivering economic, social and environmental returns.

In the long months since the first lockdown was announced last March, companies have benefited from billions of pounds worth of official support under programmes that have been delivered through existing high street lenders. These include the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, which was launched by the Chancellor Rishi Sunak in March last year.

By contrast, the Scottish National Investment Bank has made two funding awards with a total value of £52m.

Supporters would probably say it is wrong to focus on the headline spending numbers and that people should look at what the money is being used for. However, those that do look at the individual awards will find precious little evidence in them to suggest the bank has brought something new to the funding mix in Scotland.

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The first award of £12.5m went to Glasgow-based laser business M Squared.

Hailing M Squared as a great example of the ambitious and innovative companies that will be key to the economic recovery and future prosperity in Scotland, Ms Sturgeon said the deal showed the bank was hitting the ground running.

But the M Squared deal seemed to involve the provision of the kind of development capital funding that governments in Scotland have provided for years through Scottish Enterprise. The funding allowed the bank-backed BGF (Business Growth Fund) to sell most of its holding in M Squared, which it added to its investment portfolio in 2012.

The second funding award, which was made in February, involved the bank committing £40m to a fund that will be used by Places for People to invest in the provision of affordable housing. Such housing will be very important amid the surge in house prices that is making home-ownership an increasingly distant dream for many. However, the Scottish Government had provided £40m loan support for the PfP fund concerned when it was launched in 2018.

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So both awards announced by SNIB seem to involve Scottish Government funding being used to support the kind of things that Scottish Government funding was already being used to support.

Was that what Ms Sturgeon had in mind in 2017 when she announced plans for the launch of a new national investment bank? Some noted at the time that the country already had a Scottish Investment Bank. That was developed under a plan launched by Ms Sturgeon’s erstwhile colleague Alex Salmond in 2009.

It may be that Ms MacTaggart will silence the critics in coming months by unveiling a programme that shows the bank’s leadership has figured out how it can make an impact. There seem to be lots of people on the case. The bank is chaired by Willie Watt, who led private equity giant 3i’s Scottish business and the Martin Currie funds business. It appointed eight non-executive directors in November.

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The fact Rishi Sunak plans to commit £12bn public funding to a new Leeds-based national infrastructure bank could lead supporters of SNIB to feel it now gives Scotland a head start. The launch of the new UK bank raises fresh questions about the Conservative Government’s decision to sell the Edinburgh-based Green Investment Bank to Macquarie for £1.6bn in 2017.