UK government fund invested in kombucha and luxury ship builder

Rishi Sunak

The UK government has become a shareholder in more than 150 companies during the Covid crisis, including a kombucha drinks maker, a bespoke ship builder and a knitting and crochet supplier, data reveals.

It is the first time that the government’s development bank has revealed the list of firms that received special taxpayer-backed convertible loans that were earmarked for startups.

But while the taxpayer now holds stakes in companies like Vaccitech, a co-inventor of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and Ripple Energy, which allows customers to take shares in a windfarm, the government has also been left part-owning crafting firms, soft drinks businesses and entertainment companies.

The Future Fund was originally pitched as a way for the government to support innovative companies that may have otherwise struggled to secure money on their own during the pandemic.

The list, published by the British Business Bank (BBB) on Tuesday, includes companies like Secret Group Limited, the firm that runs the Secret Cinema series of immersive film events, as well as ski suit maker Oneskee, and Oto International Limited, which makes the cannabis extract CBD oil.

That is on top of an array of drinks firms including Skinny Tonic Limited, Watkins Drinks and kombucha maker Better Tasting Drinks Co Limited.

Taxpayers also hold shares in Arksen Limited, which builds “authentic explorer vessels” for “families and friends”, and Dice FM, which runs an app and website for nightclub, festival and gig tickets.

In total, the government spent about £1.1bn supporting 1,190 companies through the Future Fund. About 158 of those companies have had their loans converted into equity stakes in August after they successfully raised money from private investment that at least matched government funding, leaving the taxpayer holding shares in a vast array of small companies across the UK. The list will be updated on a quarterly basis.

“The Future Fund was set up to ensure that investment keeps flowing to our most innovative businesses, and it’s fantastic that taxpayers now have equity in these top-performing startups,” the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, said in a statement released by the Treasury to coincide with the release of the BBB’s data.

“Investing in these companies has the potential to accelerate innovations that will transform UK industry, develop new medicines and strengthen our position as a science superpower.”