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Women Entrepreneurs

Volume 510: debated on Thursday 3 June 2010

While the existing start-up rates for female-led businesses compare favourably with other G7 nations, the Government believe that much more needs to be done to help more women in business.

I am currently talking to a wide range of businesses and considering what role the Government should play with regard to access to finance, home-based businesses and enabling more women to start their own firm.

But the people who need to support women entrepreneurs and are failing to do so are at the banks, despite evidence from the Grameen bank and from the USA that investment in women entrepreneurs can grow the economy. What conversations is the Minister having with the banks to ensure that women-led businesses can succeed? Is he confident that a male team of Ministers will make that a high enough priority?

The priority of making sure that the banks are doing their job is something that both the Secretary of State and I are working on closely with the banking sector and the Treasury. We agree with the hon. Lady that we need to make sure that the banks are doing their job properly. I think there was a degree of, dare I say, complacency from some Ministers at the end of the last Government that all things were settled, but she is right to point out that they are not. She has also rightly pointed out the gender imbalance on the Front Bench, but I am pleased to tell her that my noble Friend Baroness Wilcox, who represents this Department in the other place, is working closely with me on the question of women in business. Baroness Wilcox is a successful business woman herself and I think she will make an excellent contribution. I know the hon. Lady takes a close interest in this matter. If she and other business women here would like to contribute to the debate, so that we can ensure we get the gender balance right and help more firms, they would be very welcome.

Many companies already accept the wisdom of procuring from companies that look like the customers whom they supply. We are behind many other countries, particularly the USA. I greatly welcome the Government’s aspiration to procure 25% from small businesses. Will the Minister consider the issue of procurement, and measuring procurement, from women-owned businesses for Government contracts?

I would be wary on trying to secure gender balance, as it becomes very complicated. The key is ensuring that women, as business owners and managers, can have the best opportunity. I would be happy to talk to the hon. Lady about how we can do that. I extend to her and other female Members who are in business and have real experience an offer to help me ensure that those businesses can succeed.