Skip to main content

New Businesses

Volume 527: debated on Thursday 5 May 2011

The Government are committed to increasing the number of women and men setting up businesses. If women set up businesses at the same rate as men in the UK, we would have 150,000 new business start-ups each year. We are encouraging the establishment of small businesses through excellent initiatives such as the new enterprise allowance, which will provide mentors and financial support to help the unemployed to become self-employed.

A constituent of mine has told me that she has built up a successful small business, working round her caring responsibilities over a number of years, but that she found the step to taking on an employee very daunting, given the complexity of regulation and legislation involved. Is there more that we can do to help people in that situation?

My hon. Friend makes a valuable point about the benefits and flexibility for women of establishing a business or being self-employed. She also makes an important point about getting rid of red tape and bureaucracy, which are barriers to people who are either growing their businesses or setting them up in the first place. That is why the Government have launched the red tape website, which enables people to challenge regulations. The Equality Act 2010 appears on the website. It is not the Government’s intention to abolish the Equality Act. We are putting it in place, but we want to hear from businesses how we can do regulation better to ensure that they can improve their businesses and employ more people.

I know that the right hon. Lady shares my concern about the lack of women at the top of business. Will she do as Lord Davies recommended, and insist that companies disclose annually how many women are on their boards in senior executive positions, and how many women are employed throughout the whole organisation?

I am grateful to Lord Davies for his report and his excellent proposals. We are working with business to ensure that that will be done, particularly encouraging larger businesses to set the trend so that it can then cascade down to others. I have written to my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary to ask how we can get the same message out to private as well as public sector companies. I am pleased to say that the Home Office is setting a good example in that of the four non-executive directors on its supervisory board, two are female.

Does the Minister agree that better, bolder and more ambitious career advice for our girls when they are at school and university could help bring on more female entrepreneurs?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. It is necessary to look at the career advice given to girls to ensure that they are aware of all the opportunities open to them. That will help to increase their ambition about the sort of careers they can go for, and it is also important in respect of equal pay to let them know the financial consequences of the career decisions they make.

The right hon. Lady will know that the regional development agencies did some excellent work across the country, helping women to support and start their own businesses, but those agencies are now being abolished. Women and small businesses are also being hit by the cuts to child care tax credits, cuts to Sure Start places and child benefit, while a Netmums survey found that one in five mums say they will have to give up work as a result of what is happening to the child care tax credits alone; many are extremely angry as a result. Women are also being hit twice as hard by the Government’s tax and benefit changes. Has she raised these concerns and this anger from women with the Prime Minister—or did he just tell her to “calm down, dear”, too?

On that last comment, I have no intention of suggesting that the right hon. Lady should calm down on this matter. She makes a point about what the Prime Minister said, but when I heard it, I immediately thought of Michael Winner. Sometimes I just think Opposition Members need to get a bit of a sense of humour. On the issue of women and the regional development agencies, we are abolishing the latter for extremely good reasons and putting in place local enterprise partnerships, which will ensure that opportunities are opened up for all businesses at local level. Through initiatives such as the desire to extend the right to flexible working and flexible parental leave, we are going a great deal further than the last Government in ensuring that there are opportunities for women in the workplace.