With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will answer questions 4 and 6 together.
Invest Northern Ireland is committed to increasing the level of female entrepreneurship in Northern Ireland. The agency’s Go For It campaign, its enterprise and education programmes and the Investing in Women programme all seek to encourage more women in Northern Ireland to start businesses or grow their existing businesses.
Investing in Women provides awareness programmes, role model promotion and sponsorship of conferences and events, in which more 4,000 women a year are engaged. Additionally, a further 16,000 young women are involved in various enterprise and education programmes. The women’s enterprise taskforce was announced in February 2007 by Margaret Hodge, the then Minister of State for Industry and the Regions. The taskforce aims to increase the quality and quantity of women’s enterprise across the UK over a three-year period.
Northern Ireland is represented on the taskforce by the vice chairperson of Invest Northern Ireland. Over the period 2002-07, the proportion of female-driven start-up businesses supported by Invest Northern Ireland’s Start a Business Programme, to which we have just referred, increased from 35% to 47%, which is very encouraging, as I am sure Members will agree.
I am happy to confirm that the Department proposes to transfer both the initiative and the budget associated with it to the new councils, as Members who are involved in local government will be glad to hear. It is an important programme that focuses on supporting women starting businesses that operate primarily in the local market. Therefore, it is entirely correct and appropriate that that should transfer to the remit of local authorities. The Department continues to engage in research into female entrepreneurship. There has been and continues to be research into how women who are already in established businesses may develop their businesses further. I have been encouraged by the increase in the number of women who are starting up businesses; this must be promoted even more in the future.
I thank the Minister for his reply, which addresses an important issue. Northern Ireland is eleventh in 12 United Kingdom regions where women are involved in early-stage entrepreneurial activity, and we must improve on that. With that in mind, is the Minister satisfied that enough is being done in schools to ensure that teachers have the knowledge to talk to children about becoming involved in the business world? I realise that that is a cross-cutting matter.
The Member has touched on an issue that we discussed earlier in Question Time in relation to STEM subjects. The matter is cross-cutting in the sense that career advice and the encouragement of entrepreneurship in schools is primarily a matter for the Department of Education; however, it is cross-cutting as it impinges on the work of the Department for Employment and Learning and of my Department.
We must give careers advice in schools — for which a new strategy is being devised — much greater emphasis than heretofore; we need to invest in up-to-date information and proper research for careers guidance. If we do not, we will fail our children; stereotypes will continue, and kids will go into professions and follow courses because of tradition. We must present them with the opportunities of the global economy. Those who encourage women into business or who encourage people into science, technology, engineering and maths, for example, must make clear the tremendous opportunities available in business and entrepreneurial activity.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I thank the Minister for his answers to both questions, which are encouraging to women. Given that the Minister has accepted that women are under-represented in business, has he or have his officials had discussions with the Minister for Employment and Learning to ensure that women are offered the correct courses so that they are better equipped to set up their own businesses?
I thank the Member for her comments. I assure her that my Department works closely with the Department for Employment and Learning. In general, it is vital that my Department has a good relationship with that Department on skills and so on. I will certainly ensure that the areas to which the Member referred will continue to be explored with the Department for Employment and Learning. She is correct to put emphasis on that and can be assured of my support for it.
Will the Minister tell the House how many women were in receipt of grants to help with business start-ups during the previous financial year? Will he indicate whether he has met with the Women in Business network recently? They are concerned about their ability to tender for public procurement.
I assure the Member that I will provide the specific information that she has requested for the previous financial year as soon as possible. I will write to her and will, obviously, share that information with the House. I have met several people with regard to the general issue that the Member has raised and I am aware of the concerns that exist. She can be assured that the Department is examining the issue. I will write to her with the information that she requests.