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Volume 551: debated on Thursday 18 October 2012

With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall answer questions 4 and 9 together. The majority women-led small and medium-sized enterprises already—

Order. I apologise for interrupting the right hon. Lady, but we cannot have Ministers grouping questions on the hoof. There was no advanced notice of this intended grouping, and therefore, I am afraid it does not apply. If a mess of the matter was made, that is regrettable, but that is the Minister’s responsibility, not mine.

Thank you for that guidance, Mr Speaker.

The majority of women-led SMEs already contribute about £50 billion annually to the UK economy. We are building on that by promoting an entrepreneurial culture in schools and by identifying female role models and mentors. We also have a range of business support and access-to-finance schemes open to all entrepreneurs, male and female.

I have recently volunteered to be a mentor for the new enterprise allowance locally, although, curiously, I have not been appointed a mentee yet—I am sure that will be coming. Will the Minister join me in urging women with business experience, including Members of Parliament, to become a mentor and help other women become entrepreneurs?

I pay tribute to the excellent work that my hon. Friend does in her constituency to support businesses. She is absolutely right that mentoring is a vital part of helping more women get involved in business. The Home Secretary announced funding of £600,000 towards to the Get Mentoring initiative last year, and to date more than 10,000 volunteer mentors have been trained, 42% of whom are female, and I announced a further £100,000 for this initiative last month.

I recently attended a fantastic event in Liverpool organised by the Women’s Organisation specifically on how women could access finance. I heard at first hand the challenges that many women face when they try build their businesses. Is the Minister concerned that, according to the Department for Work and Pensions, last year just 17% of people benefiting from a new enterprise allowance scheme were women? Does she agree that this flagship policy is failing properly to support women’s entrepreneurship?

I am sure that the hon. Lady knows that earlier this month changes were announced to the new enterprise allowance scheme, and there is now day-one access for people on jobseeker’s allowance, which will open it up to more people. Also, we are already doing extensive work on access to finance, and will be publishing our response shortly.

9. Will the Minister commit to liaising with her colleagues in the Department for Education to encourage young girls to take subjects such as business studies and economics? (123206)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that schools have an important role to play here, although I stress that it is not just about studying business studies or economics. Businesses want to ensure that the young people they are employing have the literacy and numeracy skills needed in a successful business today. I applaud the Secretary of State for Education on his work in this area.

A recent study in Northern Ireland showed that 80% of women were in part-time work, and I understand that the figures on the UK mainland are similar. Does the Minister agree that we need a strategy that allows women to fulfil their potential, when they desire it, instead of being seemingly pigeonholed into a part-time working pattern?

The important thing is that women and parents are able to balance their work and family lives. Our work on the modernisation of the workplace is important to that. I also reiterate my comments about universal credit and the ability of women to access child care support when they are working shorter hours. Some £300 million is being invested in that. That is something that was not forthcoming under a Labour Government.