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Entrepreneurship Opportunities

Volume 737: debated on Thursday 24 May 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures they are taking to develop entrepreneurship opportunities for young people in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the evidence shows that to build enterprise, ambition and capability in young people it is important to provide hands-on experience at school and ensure ongoing access to support and advice. My Government have therefore developed a range of activities to inspire and give confidence to young people throughout schools, colleges and universities. Next week, my noble friend Lord Young will launch a new start-up loan scheme to improve access to finance for young entrepreneurs.

I am grateful for my noble friend’s Answer. She may be aware that at the Global Entrepreneurship Congress held in Liverpool Sir Richard Branson suggested that, for many young people who had a business acumen, university was not for them; that we might consider instead that student loans should go to them to establish businesses; and that they should be mentored by business leaders. Does the Minister think that that is a good proposition? If so, how do we develop it? Perhaps a meeting should be held with Richard Branson to develop his idea.

The Government recognise the need to help young people to access the finance that they need to start up their own businesses and to be entrepreneurs. As I just said, next week we will be launching the £10 million start-up loans scheme which is specifically aimed at 18 to 24 year-olds. My colleague the Minister for Business and Enterprise in the other place, Mark Prisk, met Sir Richard Branson last week, and the issue of start-up loans was raised during those discussions. So it looks as though I have missed my chance to fly to the moon with Richard Branson but he is a wonderful role model, and more courage to him.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that many young people considering taking the leap of leaving employment and starting their own business are hesitant to do so for what I consider to be the least of their troubles? They are hesitant because, for example, they are worried about how to register for VAT, how they will be able to pay their taxes and how they will pay national insurance. However, as I said, this is the least of their problems. Can the Minister consider an initiative whereby HMRC publicises in some way how easy it is to start up in business and perhaps publishes some kind of crib sheet which says that it is easy to get going?

I thank the noble Lord for that question. It is a very sensible idea. We have many things under way but I think that this is a new way of thinking in that direction. It is what we expect from the noble Lord, and I would love to think that one day we could get him to sign up as one of our enterprise champions.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister is aware that there have been some very welcome investments in the school for entrepreneurs, the Enterprise Academy and the work at Suffolk One sixth-form college in Ipswich. However, these sit alongside a disturbing and rising figure for young people not in education, employment or training. Does the Minister agree that, if more investment were put into such excellent facilities, that might have an effect on the other figure?

Yes, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich is right. Everything we can do to help to build the confidence of the young in this area is very important. We have the new enterprise allowance, which helps unemployed people to start their own businesses. It is available to those who have been claiming jobseeker’s allowance for six months or more, and it provides access to business mentoring, as well as offering financial support. Very often, it is a case of having somebody to talk to who understands the situation. I am lucky that I grew up in an entrepreneurial family and therefore I grew up with the language of entrepreneurs at home. These facilities provide an enormous advantage for children who come from homes where perhaps no one at all goes out to work and where they are therefore starting from a point of terrible disadvantage. We are looking at this carefully to see what we can do to help.

My Lords, on entering the White Lion pub in Alvanley in deepest Cheshire on Sunday, my wife and I discovered that it was national sandwich week. When I asked the young lady behind the bar who had so declared it, she replied, “The landlord”. Catching that enterprise, she then declared to me that next week was to be national vegetarian week. I wonder whether the Minister could explore the opportunities for mentors and young people to come together, full of ideas, and so build the small businesses and enterprises that we so badly need in this period of recovery.

Somebody clever beside me has just said that the noble Lord was describing a sandwich course, but there we are.

My Lords, following the Minister’s comments in relation to families, does she agree that young people’s initiative can be either stifled or encouraged by their family background? In the past, there have been initiatives on family learning. Does the Minister know where the initiatives have reached and will she encourage them in the future?

I have to admit that I do not know anything about such courses but I shall look into this when I leave the Chamber. No doubt the people in the Box will tell me that I should have been able to answer the noble Baroness. This bears out what I said earlier about family background and the need to help as much as possible. We are working with schools and are even working with primary schools to see whether we can encourage parents to be more engaged with the school. Of course, it is for schools to do that but where we can help we will, and I thank the noble Baroness for the suggestion.

My Lords, we all hope that our young entrepreneurs will grow up to become employers, and the Government have invested a lot of political capital in promoting the John Lewis model of employment relations. Given that Mr Beecroft’s report has promoted a new government policy of no-fault dismissal, the Government will have to make a choice about which one of those two policies to promote. Which will they choose?

That is something to think about. Mr Beecroft was asked to give us his view because we needed to hear everybody’s view, and we have now heard the noble Lord’s view. I am very happy that we can go back and consider these things.

My Lords, following the extremely helpful suggestions from the noble Lord, Lord Sugar, I would like to ask my noble friend—as there has been quite a lot of questioning about advice for young people—what plans the Government have for developing the careers service which I believe is beginning to get under way. It seems to me that quite a lot could be achieved by giving useful advice to young people, as used to be provided through the careers service in schools.

We have certainly been reviewing the careers service. We are bringing in an all-age careers service because the need for such a service does not stop when you leave school at 16 or 18. We also realise that it needs to start much earlier than that. If we are to get people going along the path that will suit them we need to start early. I thank my noble friend for the suggestion. I hope that I can pass on to her even more information about the careers service.