HC Deb 16 September 2004 vol 424 cc1449-50
20. Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby) (Lab)

If she will make a statement on the initiatives taken by the Government to encourage women (a) to become self-employed and (b) to establish businesses.␣[189163]

The Deputy Minister for Women and Equality (Jacqui Smith)

Since the launch of our strategic framework for women's enterprise last year, we have been working across government and in the regions to improve the environment of support for women wishing to become self-employed or to start businesses.

I am pleased to report that all nine English regions are now committed to developing women's enterprise. Enterprise week in November will include a designated women's enterprise day. Women now account for around one third of people going into self-employment, and an increasing number of women are reporting that they have the skills needed to start a business.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas

I thank my right hon. Friend for that response and wish to make her aware that I have a marvellous community cinema in my community, which a group of enterprising women took over seven years ago. It has a turnover of nearly a third of a million pounds a year while making only £500 profit. Those women desperately want to expand this facility and they desperately need support to do so. Is she convinced that the mechanisms that she has now put in place will reach these wonderful women so that they can go on working in voluntary enterprise and make more of a contribution than they have already?

Jacqui Smith

My hon. Friend is obviously talking about a group of very inspirational women, who have taken on the challenge not only of enterprise but of building their community as well. She is absolutely right. We need to look at all the forms of support that are in place and make sure that they take into consideration the specific needs of women. That is why, for example, we shall shortly launch the case for women's enterprise, which offers practical guidance, case studies and advice for those people who offer business support on the particular needs of women. That is why, in the situation that she has described, the increased support that the Government have put in place for social enterprise may also be appropriate for these women. I am clear that not only is it beneficial for individual women in the circumstances that she has outlined to set up in business, but it is extremely beneficial for their communities as well.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con)

How many new businesses were established last year by women?

Jacqui Smith

I do not know the answer to that, but I will certainly provide the hon. Gentleman with the information later. It is encouraging that research shows that many more women now feel they have the skills and ability to set up in business. We now need to translate that into women who actually do that, and I have already outlined some of the practical measures that are being taken at a national level and through the regional development agencies, which are beginning to set women's enterprise as a priority and to put in place the actions that will translate those women who want to start in business into women who are successfully in business.

Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op)

In Sheffield, there is an active business club that has many women members who have set up their own businesses and who are doing very well. Will my right hon. Friend look at ways in which Government organisations can make better links with such organisations to use these women as examples and inspirations to other women?

Jacqui Smith

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Interestingly, a research report by the British Chambers of Commerce found that female businesses tended to be more innovative and more collaborative and networked particularly with universities, as well as being increasingly export oriented.

My hon. Friend makes an important point about the need to find mentors for women who are setting up in work. The business volunteer mentoring initiative, which currently provides free mentoring support to pre and early start-up businesses, has some 43,000 clients, approximately 40 per cent. of whom are female. Although women do not form the majority of those who use the service, a higher proportion of women who set up in business use it than men. My hon. Friend makes an important point on which we need to build.