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Female Entrepreneurship

Volume 797: debated on Wednesday 3 April 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they intend to implement the recommendations of The Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship, published on 8 March.

My Lords, the Government responded to the Rose review by immediately setting out a new, ambitious target to increase female entrepreneurship by half by 2030, and making new commitments to help drive more funding to women starting and growing businesses. Alison Rose is working with private sector partners to take forward the recommendations of the review, and will update all in due course.

My Lords, women run businesses better than men. The Rose report, in which that is mentioned, shows that some £250 billion would be added to the UK Exchequer were it to be followed rigorously. Given that, what is being done to help women with childcare, and with increasing business networks? Finally, given that women have extreme prowess in speaking languages, what is being done in this post-Brexit world to ensure maximum use of women in speaking languages to feed and help British business?

I am certainly happy to go with the noble Lord on that. He points out, rightly, that the report says that there are 1.1 million fewer women setting up their own businesses compared to the proportion of men doing so in the country. The ambition to change that would therefore result in a boost of some £250 billion to the economy. The report makes interesting reading on the barriers to employment: childcare is certainly a major one. That is why the 30 hours of free childcare for parents of three to four year-olds is such an important contribution, but we are aware that much more needs to be done. The report has given the Government a clear working strategy going forward.

My Lords, if we want,

“to strengthen the UK’s position as one of the best places in the world for women to start and grow a business”,

as the report says, then no one can be left behind. The Government’s response to the Rose report refers to:

“Easing the financial costs of family care with new banking products”.

Will the Minister outline the government thinking about what these products could be and how they will help the estimated 1.1 million women entrepreneur start-ups that the report estimates are missing from the economic life of this country? If he does not have the facts right at his fingertips, perhaps he would undertake to write to me.

I would be happy to do that to expand but, briefly, the thought was that one of the barriers was in female access to venture capital. An interesting study on that identified bias in the system against female entrepreneurs. It therefore came up with some ideas, along with the British Private Equity & Venture Capital Association and Diversity VC, on how that could be addressed. I think we all recognise that the great research and data that we have seen in the report has given us the ideas to think about policy solutions for the future.

I would welcome my noble friend’s views on how we could use networking better. I found this enormously helpful in my own business career. For example, there were female mentors telling me what to do, and what not to do. In leading a female executive network across the world, when I was at Tesco, we used to discuss everything from childcare and juggling it, to how to get pay rises. Also, there is Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life each year; it was in running that that I first met the late Lady Jowell and many other noble Baronesses. These networking occasions really help to build confidence and we should do more for female entrepreneurs.

Indeed, that was one of the things which Alison Rose brought out, as she is doing in her present role, particularly in the finance sector. I pay tribute to my noble friend for being one of the pioneer female directors along with my noble friend Lady O’Cathain, who was one of the first female directors of a British retail bank. Lots more needs to be done, but we are standing on the shoulders of some very impressive people.

My Lords, we are so far behind France, America and Canada in the numbers of women becoming entrepreneurs compared with men. This suggests that there is a rather significant fundamental bias at work in our society. Do we not need to look at the teaching of economics and financial issues in schools for girls, to create some degree of equity and confidence among young women?

That was a particular focus of a report done by Vince Cable when he was Secretary of State. It was carried out by Lorely Burt MP, now the noble Baroness, Lady Burt. He came out very much on the side of more needing to be done for entrepreneurs. Alison Rose identified that the problems occur at school with not getting more females into STEM subjects. While some progress has been made, with a 25% increase since 2010, the report recognised that significantly more needed to be done to ensure that people had the skills necessary to set up their business and make a success of it.

My Lords, while I warmly welcome the investment that the Government have made in childcare, is the Minister concerned that childcare work, done principally by women, is still very low status and low paid? Will he talk with his colleagues about investing more in continuous professional development for early-years workers so that they start their own businesses and develop themselves?

Many of them have done that. As well as skills strategies, developments such as the national living wage have made a significant difference to people in those professions. We need to look at all those issues.