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Commonwealth: Young Entrepreneurs

Volume 757: debated on Monday 24 November 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to encourage links with young entrepreneurs in the Caribbean and across the Commonwealth.

Baroness Benjamin (LD): My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and, in so doing, I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Royal Commonwealth Society.

My Lords, at the UK-Caribbean Ministerial Forum in June, both sides committed to bringing together young leaders in business, entrepreneurship, civil society and academia. In 2014, our support for the Caribbean has included progressing scholarship programmes between higher education institutions and the UK, and enhancing regional competitiveness and enterprise innovation. In the wider Commonwealth, the range of UK programmes includes supporting a social entrepreneurship programme for young women in India.

I thank my noble friend for that encouraging Answer. As part of her Diamond Jubilee, Her Majesty created the Queen’s Young Leaders Award. Part of that programme is to discover, develop and nurture young entrepreneurs across the Commonwealth, which is wonderful. However, more opportunities are needed for young entrepreneurs, especially in the Caribbean. What are the Government doing to encourage links between business schools here in Britain and those in the Caribbean? How much priority does DfID give to encouraging entrepreneurship in the Caribbean?

My Lords, it is not just a question of DfID programmes: there are also UKTI programmes and British Council programmes. The British Council is concerned particularly with a creative young entrepreneurs’ programme, which covers the Caribbean as well as some other areas. It is clearly the sort of area where services and new industries can develop.

My Lords, last week I spoke at the opening event of Global Entrepreneurship Week here in London. I was delighted that a report released at the event showed that London is one of the top two cities for entrepreneurship in Europe. Is the Minister aware of the Sirius programme backed by UK Trade and Investment, which attracts young entrepreneurs from around the world and which I was involved in launching? Will the Government assure us that they are promoting this Sirius programme throughout the Commonwealth, along with countries such as India?

My Lords, I am certainly aware of the Sirius programme. It is being promoted across the Caribbean and the Commonwealth, as well as in other areas.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that this is Dominican Republic week in the United Kingdom and that various events are being organised by the embassy and by industries with an interest in the Dominican Republic? Will he encourage Commonwealth Caribbean countries to do similar by having a Trinidad week, a Barbados week and a Jamaica week in the United Kingdom? Maybe I should declare an interest as president of the Caribbean Council.

My Lords, the noble Lord may be surprised to know that I was not aware that this is Dominican Republic week. However, I am conscious that there are a range of Caribbean-related festivals not just in London but across Britain. Indeed, on one occasion I presented the prizes at the Miss Grenada Commonwealth competition in Huddersfield at what should have been about 10 o’clock at night but turned out to be one o’clock in the morning.

My Lords, I have to declare an interest as president of the Royal Commonwealth Society. Does my noble friend agree that what these young entrepreneurs really need is access to funds to get their businesses started? If, as in many other parts of the world, the banks will not play and are not really being as helpful as they should be, should we not also encourage the development of all kinds of alternative finance built on peer-to-peer lending and so on, as well as many other opportunities, which are enabling small businesses all over the developing world and certainly in the Caribbean to have proper access to funds for the first time?

My Lords, of course we should be doing that. Part of the problem in the Caribbean is that, apart from Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, we are talking about very small islands with very small economies, and getting major enterprises going in such areas is often a little more difficult than it is in larger countries.

My Lords, given that the Caribbean area is not, to put it mildly, a priority for DfID aid, should Her Majesty’s Government be doing more to assist some of the smaller islands there, some of which not only suffer from deep poverty but need support in order to succeed in establishing successful trading and business concerns?

My Lords, my brief says that the Caribbean is very much one of DfID’s priorities. We are of course conscious of the difficulties that some of the smaller Caribbean economies have. I am told that, apart from Guyana, none of the Caribbean economies is at present demonstrating very strong economic growth.

My Lords, will my noble friend also have a word with the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Secretariat to ensure that it promotes such activities so that other Commonwealth nations can benefit? Not only could they learn from us but we could learn quite a lot from some of the Commonwealth countries.

My Lords, certainly we are actively engaged with the Commonwealth Secretariat. The UK is the largest funder of the Commonwealth Secretariat and also the largest supporter of its youth fund.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust and as a person who was born in Dominica, one of the tiniest islands within the Caribbean. Mention has already been made of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee scholarships which are going to be given to the 53 countries. Can the noble Lord tell us what assistance the Government intend to give to make sure that Caribbean members get a proper opportunity to demonstrate their skill, their talent and their ingenuity?

My Lords, that is a very good and complex question, and I think it is better that I write to the noble and learned Baroness with a full indication of where we are. I am very conscious of her background in Dominica and indeed, with my World War I hat on, of the contribution that her family and many others in the Caribbean made to the British war effort in the Great War.