The next item of business i s a members’ business debate on motion S5M-08105, in the name of Gillian Martin, on global entrepreneurship week. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament welcomes the return of Global Entrepreneurship Week, which will run from 13 to 17 November 2017; celebrates the work of Women’s Enterprise Scotland (WES) in promoting and supporting women into business during the awareness week and throughout the year; notes that as part of the 2016 awareness week, WES brought women business owners to the Parliament to receive training on giving evidence to committees, and that this work has been ongoing since; welcomes the refreshed Framework for Women’s Enterprise in Scotland; commends the contributions of women business owners and WES to the Cross Party Group on Women in Enterprise; notes the view that so-called gender-blind policy making, as evidenced by recent research by WES, must be replaced by a gender-aware approach to economic development, enterprise and growth policies; believes that the collection and analysis of gender-disaggregated data is critical to help policy makers meet the needs of women-led businesses, and understands that, if the rates of women-led businesses equalled those of men, the contribution to Scotland’s gross value added (GVA) would increase from £7.6 billion to £13 billion, representing 5.4% in economic growth.
I would like to thank my colleagues in the chamber today for their support for this debate, which marks the return of global entrepreneurship week. I also acknowledge the hard work of my friends and colleagues in Women’s Enterprise Scotland, who are in the gallery today. They lead the way in promoting and supporting women into business—work that they are tirelessly committed to all year round. Each year, they go from strength to strength.
I convene the cross-party group on women in enterprise. In the 18 months since the group started, we have had tremendous support from a wide range of stakeholders, including WES, which helps me to run the CPG, and I feel that the voices of women in business have been amplified somewhat by our work in the group. It is not just a talking shop: we get things done—not the least of which has been our securing of funding from the Scottish Government for supporting women in business through training and mentorship programmes.
In 2016, WES brought female business owners to Holyrood, where they received training on giving evidence to committees.
Since then, we have met women who are starting out in business at several recent events in Parliament, such as last month’s business in the Parliament event and Christine Grahame’s excellent evening event showcasing the business achievements of the army spouses from Glencorse barracks, in her constituency, which resulted from workshops that were put on by WES.
The Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee published its report on the gender pay gap earlier this year. It has become a key indicator of where we are and the strides that we must take in order to close the gap. Alongside the gender pay gap is the gender enterprise gap. We must close that gap as a matter of economic urgency. If we could get the same amount of women as men running businesses, the injection to the Scottish economy would be significant; there would be an increase of more than £7 billion, which represents 5.4 per cent economic growth. Any Government minister would be shouting that growth figure from the rooftops.
Following on from that, the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee inquiry into data is identifying that the lack of gender-disaggregated data only masks the issue further. The scale of the shortfall in women-led businesses getting business support, for example, needs to be identified and such businesses need to be targeted in the future.
I am delighted to see so many colleagues in the chamber today, because that must mean that they, too, are keen to champion the benefits of helping to support and encourage more women into business. As it is global entrepreneurship week, our goal has to be that we support women-led business to trade and work all over the world. We all know the Scottish Government’s four Is strategy of innovation, inclusion, investment and internationalisation. Women-led business must be included in all those elements if Scotland is to fulfil its potential. If I had given it a wee bit more thought at the time of lodging the motion for debate, I would have called it “Inclusion in Internationalisation”. Maybe next year. No one is allowed to pinch that—it is mine.
Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the Business Women Scotland awards in Glasgow, at which the keynote speaker was our First Minister. The winners and runners-up of awards are an inspiration to those who follow in their footsteps. I say “follow”, but we often hear that, in reality, women who run businesses are very giving of their expertise to other women who are starting out. They pull others up behind them; they mentor, support and champion one another.
All over Scotland in global entrepreneurship week there are celebrations of those who are operating abroad from Scotland—rightly so. I say to women in business that they should not look at globally operating business and think that they will never get there—that it is for someone else or that it is too hard—because the women who win the awards were once them. I say to them that they should not look at success and think that they cannot achieve it, but should instead speak to those women who win the awards and tell them that they would like to achieve what they have achieved, and ask whether they have time to tell them how they did it. Women will share that experience gladly.
Across the mentoring and support systems that are growing among female entrepreneurs, there will be many conversations that revolve around experience sharing that can encourage women who are not already doing so to reach global markets. Next week, in global entrepreneurship week, I hope that there will be as many conversations challenging and offering support to business to go global as there will be conversations revelling in the success of those who have already done so.
I move on to the traditional member’s debate speech section—my favourite bit—in which we get to make a fuss about someone in our constituency. I am looking forward hugely to hearing my colleagues use the opportunity to champion women-led businesses in their constituencies, but I will get in first with one of Aberdeenshire East’s success stories, right on my doorstep in the wee village of Newmachar, where I live.
Eight years ago, Lindsay Ritchie took a part-time course at North East Scotland College to learn how to make kilts. Since then, her passion has turned into a business, and she now employs eight staff in the local area and is a fully fledged global brand with customers all over the world. By the end of this year, her firm, Kilts Wi Hae, will have achieved a turnover just shy of £1 million. I have had the pleasure of visiting Lindsay’s business both as her MSP and as one of her customers. The way she runs her business is an exemplar of all that I frequently rave on about in Parliament.
Those who know me know that I never tire of talking about the benefits of flexible working. Lindsay says her workplace prides itself on its flexible working, which means that she and her staff can put as much effort and enthusiasm into their business as possible and still arrive on time at the school to pick up their children. The business is all the better for that, and her employees are loyal and committed.
Lindsay Ritchie has become a global ambassador for her business and for female entrepreneurs. She has shown that they can spin a small idea into their very own brand and do that in a way that fits in with their lives beyond work. In the packing area of Kilts Wi Hae, there is a map of the world with dots that show where the company has shipped kilts, gifts and accessories to. That map is absolutely covered in dots. If a small business from Aberdeenshire that is tucked away on a B road beside fields of horses can sell kilts and sporrans to four continents, any business can do it.
We can all point to reasons why not as many women as their male counterparts operate globally and why not enough women set up in business, but I want to leave that for another day, because today is about encouraging entrepreneurship and recognising that, without women, we would not hit the four Is. Today is about making a right good fuss of the women in our constituencies who are reaching out beyond our borders and making things happen for their businesses across the world. It is about women who are going global and who will help Scotland to reach its potential.
I refer to my register of interests—in particular, my general involvement with businesses that I have started.
I congratulate Gillian Martin on achieving cross-party support for a members’ business debate on such an important topic. Removing obstacles and ensuring that women have the same tools and opportunities that men have to flourish in business and beyond is important not only for our economy, but for our society. I have seen the impact that empowering women through business can have.
For 10 years, I worked in Azerbaijan, where I was involved in setting up and supporting many small businesses. One enterprise in particular that stands out as one that I am proud to have been involved with was a carpet workshop in Azerbaijan’s northern region of Guba. That workshop was not only a culturally valuable enterprise that kept traditional carpet-weaving skills alive; more important is that it provided a unique refuge for women who were suffering from domestic abuse. In a country in which there is still much progress to be made on women’s rights, seeing the enterprise and entrepreneurship of those women was an eye-opening experience.
The Scottish Conservatives fully support efforts to support women into business in Scotland, but I am cautious that that should not detract from efforts to improve business start-ups across other sectors of society. The latest statistics show that Scotland has a significantly lower rate of businesses per head of population than the rest of the United Kingdom has. The UK figure sits at 499 enterprises for every 10,000 adults; Scotland lags behind at 393 enterprises for every 10,000 adults. Because of the Scottish Government’s poor track record, there are 27 per cent fewer businesses in existence in Scotland than there are in the rest of the UK. In addition to considering the motion, I call on the Scottish Government to ensure that it reviews the burdens that it puts on businesses and which impact on the number of enterprises that flourish.
The best and brightest people start out in an integral part of our lives: our education system. Enhancing our education system is the foundation of improving business start-ups in Scotland. The Federation of Small Businesses is campaigning to have every Scottish school offer specialist courses that teach pupils about running their own business. A European Commission study found that 28 per cent of those who took part in enterprise education wanted to start businesses and become entrepreneurs. I fully support the FSB’s campaign.
I am proud to represent my Aberdeenshire West constituency for many reasons. This week, I was delighted to see that the FSB has named Aberdeenshire West as one of Scotland’s top five most entrepreneurial Holyrood constituencies, and that it contains some of the healthiest local business communities in Scotland.
I will continue to add my support to promoting women in business, and I look forward to working with members across the chamber to help to achieve a gender-balanced business society.
I thank Gillian Martin for bringing the debate to the chamber again this year, and for highlighting the hugely important work that Women’s Enterprise Scotland does to promote and support women in business. As I said last year, it should be our ambition to focus on women’s enterprise every day—not just for one week of the year.
I declare an interest, as the deputy convener of the cross-party group on women in enterprise. I feel privileged to have the opportunity to work with a great number of inspiring women including, of course, the convener, Gillian Martin, and with many organisations that aim to advance the position of women throughout the business sector.
For me, global entrepreneurship week is about celebrating women and the work of Women’s Enterprise Scotland. It is agreed that developing women’s enterprise is critical for Scotland’s economy. Currently, just one fifth of Scottish small and medium-sized enterprises are majority owned by women. They make an important and valuable contribution to our economy but—goodness me!—it could be so much more substantial. If the number of women-led businesses in Scotland were to increase to equal the number that are led by men, our economy would grow by a staggering £7.6 billion. Think of how much our economy could flourish with the injection of an extra £7.6 billion to the pot.
One of the fantastic small enterprises that are run by women is just up the road, at Cranachan & Crowdie on the Canongate. When I visited last year, I was inspired by the passion that Beth and Fiona have for their business. Not only are they women owners, but the majority of the products that they stock are created by women: I can recommend the gin, Presiding Officer. Although businesses such as that give us a lot to celebrate, there is still much more to be done to advance the opportunities for women in business, so we need more than warm words; we need substantive action.
There are real challenges. Research that was undertaken by Women’s Enterprise Scotland shows that gender stereotyping persists around women-owned businesses, with 80 per cent of survey respondents stating that they faced specific challenges as women business owners, including in achieving credibility for their business, and with 46 per cent saying that they had experienced discrimination. That is not good enough. Although I welcome the Government’s efforts and the framework for women’s enterprise, we must do more to address those issues. I urge the Scottish Government to take on board the recommendations from WES and the European Institute for Gender Equality to adopt a gender-aware approach to all enterprise and growth policies, and to introduce gender-specific training and gender-specific business support, because women’s enterprise is different in nature.
As the Minister for Employability and Training knows, I always like to talk to him about how much funding we should be providing, and it will not be any different today. I am sure that the minister absolutely agrees with me that Women’s Enterprise Scotland is the acknowledged expert in advancing opportunities for women in enterprise, but its women’s training and leadership programme, which delivers such positive results and which was launched with Fife Council in June, receives no Scottish Government funding. I absolutely believe that that is an oversight.
In contrast, Scottish Enterprise, an organisation that receives hundreds of millions of pounds of funding from the Scottish Government, was awarded £60,000 from the Government to fund a similar programme. I welcome the fact that Women’s Enterprise Scotland enjoys other support from the Scottish Government, but it is a fraction of what is needed. Just think what could be achieved with its training programme: it is a tested scheme that is so successful that the number of places has had to be doubled. It would be a good investment. It is nearly Christmas, and I know that the minister wants to do the right thing, so I look forward to him finding the extra bit of money that will allow Women’s Enterprise Scotland to do so much more.
Only when we do such things and encourage more women into business will we unlock the huge potential of our economy. We could increase our economy by £7.6 billion and our gross value added to £13 billion, which would be an increase of 5 per cent. At a time of economic uncertainty, slowing growth and public sector job cuts, we want more growth, more jobs and more revenues through taxes. Let us support women’s enterprise, because that is the right thing to do.
I start by congratulating my friend and colleague Gillian Martin MSP on bringing a motion on global entrepreneurship week to Parliament. It rightly focuses on women in business and as entrepreneurs. Here we stand in the national Parliament of our country, where 35 per cent of our members are women—aren’t we lucky?—and the Parliamentary Bureau, which decides on the business that we debate as MSPs, comprises six men. In this institution, we boast of our progressive commitment to equality on the one hand, but the average woman’s salary in Holyrood is 11 per cent lower than that of the average man. Yesterday, the Parliament’s Local Government and Communities Committee met with five male MSPs and me.
However, this debate is not about this place or our lack of direct action to tackle gender inequality. Let us talk about the entrepreneurs and the women who succeed in business even when the odds are stacked against them. Figures from the UK Office for National Statistics show that women in Scotland, where average salaries are lower than those south of the border, are still being paid on average 15.2 per cent less than men.
I was interested in Jackie Baillie’s comments about Fife Council, but there is not a single mention of gender in its draft economic strategy for 2017 to 2027. As Gillian Martin’s motion notes, we need
“a gender-aware approach to economic development, enterprise and growth policies”.
In June last year, women in my constituency had a 10 per cent lower employment rate than Scottish women nationally. It is clear that Fife Council needs to consider gender in its plans for driving economic growth. Later today, I will be writing to the chief executive of Fife Council to ensure that it goes back and looks again at how it can adequately address the gendered barriers that women face in accessing work and starting their own businesses.
In 2017, women are still paid less than men and find it harder to get into the labour market, so I welcome the First Minister’s recent announcement of funding to tackle the gender gap in business. I note that Business Women Scotland’s BWS live events programme is to receive £60,000 for networking and to support events across Scotland. I invite Business Women Scotland to consider Glenrothes or Leven in my constituency as locations for future events.
Women’s Enterprise Scotland has also trained members of staff at business gateway Fife on gender balance. That is welcome, but we could be doing better and moving faster in the kingdom. As Gillian Martin notes in her motion,
“if the rates of women-led businesses equalled those of men, the contribution to Scotland’s gross value added ... would increase from £7.6 billion to £13 billion”.
More women in business is clearly good for business.
I would like to give a specific mention to Eden Fyfe Accounts, which operates nationally from its headquarters in Glenrothes in my constituency. It was founded in 2007 by Christine Convy, and all staff in the company are women. Eden Fyfe’s director, Lisa Bray, works with the Fife women in business networking group to give women more confidence and more contacts in business.
I would also like to mention the fantastic Lesley Reid, who runs her own business, the Willow & Plum Soap Company. Lesley established her business in 2013 and it specialises in cold-pressed soap, using natural ingredients that are kinder to skin than conventional soap. Lesley taught herself how to make soap from scratch, and she even managed to train her husband as well. Today, the company is a thriving family business that ships its products globally, all from its premises in Kinglassie. Business gateway supported Lesley when she came up with the idea in 2013 while she was very pregnant. Lesley states:
“they liked the idea, they saw my vision and I qualified for the ‘Create In Fife’ fund, which covered start-up costs.”
What an accountancy firm and a soap maker share in common is female ingenuity and the spirit of entrepreneurial aspiration that says, “I’ve got an idea and I’m going to make it happen.” There are female politicians in this place who, later today, will work across the party divide to hold this institution to account. The work of people such as Lesley Reid and Christine Convy teaches us all, regardless of our workplace, that women’s voices are powerful, that they are valid and that, if we truly listen to them, that is good not just for a fairer society but for business.
I thank Gillian Martin for bringing this debate to the chamber. It gives us an opportunity to show our support for global entrepreneurship week and the work of Women’s Enterprise Scotland, both of which I support for their efforts to promote women in business not just this week, but every week.
Each November, entrepreneurial events are held around the world, inspiring millions. It is therefore a little disappointing that it appears that none will be held in North East Scotland this year, but perhaps that will happen in future. With the recent downturn across our region, such an event would have been a tremendously positive sign to send out to prospective entrepreneurs and investors alike.
That is perhaps a sign of a larger problem, however, and we must ask ourselves why more businesses are not being formed in Scotland. Part of the solution is to encourage talent and to attract more investment.
The Scottish Conservatives are dedicated to pro-growth policies, but there are barriers to overcome. Sadly, some are of the SNP Government’s own making: increasing taxes and business rates will merely serve to stagnate economic growth and place increasing burdens on businesses. The barriers that entrepreneurs face must be tackled. I say that not to be combative, but in the spirit of wishing to see the best environment possible for small entrepreneurial businesses to grow.
Making Scotland the highest-taxed part of the UK does not create such an environment. Neither does complacency about the challenges that we face, as we saw from the assertion by the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, Keith Brown, that Scottish growth statistics are “good news”. Compared with the UK as a whole, Scotland’s growth is sluggish, its businesses face enormous rates increases and we only narrowly dodged a recession earlier this year.
It is not just my Scottish Conservative colleagues and I who are making those points; the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Scottish Chambers of Commerce have warned about a high-tax agenda. Those warnings must be heeded if we are to help Scotland’s incredible small to medium-sized businesses, which made up 99 per cent of Scottish firms last year and helped to drive our economy forward. We must ensure that they can flourish.
I acknowledge that efforts have been made to offer support, such as the unlocking ambition challenge, which will support up to 40 budding entrepreneurs each year and will help Scotland to become a world-leading entrepreneurial nation. According to the First Minister, it will ensure that the most talented entrepreneurs create the companies that we need to grow the economy. However, the First Minister must not forget the businesses that have already set up shop in Scotland, which are struggling with slow economic growth and business rates and are looking to her for help, not hindrance. There is little evidence that the Scottish Government’s tax hikes will be beneficial to the country; they will have a particularly negative impact on those who are looking to start their own businesses, and the First Minister must consider that.
Where there has been success, we must recognise and encourage it, for example the increase in the number of self-employed women from 76,000 in 2007 to 113,000 this year. That is welcome news, which is thanks to the efforts of organisations such as Women’s Enterprise Scotland, which aims to create a commercial culture in which women-led business ownership is not simply an aspiration but an achievable goal for women everywhere.
Unfortunately, gender imbalance in Scotland is still an issue, with men twice as likely as women to launch their own businesses. That is why it is important that Women’s Enterprise Scotland is successful in making its efforts a reality for women in Scotland. Its success would benefit the entire country; Scotland’s female entrepreneurs boost the economy by £268 million, and, as the motion and other members have said, if women started businesses at the same rate as men, it could add up to £7.6 billion to the Scottish economy. It is a simple message, but then truths often are: more women-owned businesses are good for Scotland.
I thank Gillian Martin for bringing the debate on global entrepreneurship week to the Parliament and, in particular, for her focus in the motion on the role of women in enterprise, which is correctly identified as part of raising levels of entrepreneurship across the economy as a whole.
First, I will respond to comments made by Bill Bowman. The small business bonus is enabling 100,000 businesses in Scotland to be lifted out of rates altogether, helping many businesses, including women-owned business. Scotland’s council tax—£400 lower than the UK average—makes Scotland the lowest-taxed part of the UK, not the highest. While the Conservatives might want to focus on the top 10 per cent who benefit from the tax cuts given down south, in Scotland this SNP Government focuses on all business, including small business, and all people, at all points on the income spectrum.
It is estimated that women comprise the majority of shareholders in only about 21 per cent of Scotland’s businesses.
That is bad news not just for equality, but for the bottom line. We cannot afford not to fully engage the talents of half of the population. Studies have shown that women-owned businesses are more resilient in recession. We can help to future proof our economy and create more stable prospects by investing in and nurturing women in business. If women started businesses at the same rate as men, it would add another £7 billion to the value of Scotland’s economy.
I take the opportunity to mention Fiona Colbron-Brown, who runs the East End Connections business network in my constituency, a fabulous initiative that is bringing together businesses from all around the east end to share ideas and opportunities. Business start-up requires creativity, seeing opportunity where others do not, and figuring out new ways of meeting demand. Women often bring a different perspective to problems, a different appreciation of market needs and a different understanding of how to meet them.
Women’s Enterprise Scotland, the organisation leading the way on this issue, makes some simple recommendations to support and encourage more women-led business start-ups. In business, gender-balanced panels and role models are important, along with appropriate imagery and language in advertising. We need to set an example for women and girls, and men have to play their part in delivering that. They can do so by challenging gender-stereotypical attitudes that restrict the start-up and growth of women-led businesses. That will deliver benefits not only here but in other areas of the economy where gender imbalance is marked.
The pay gap is one of the most significant imbalances. Although Scotland’s pay gap is significantly below the UK average, the gap is still too high, and much of that inequality is caused by gender stereotypes that help nobody. Many women are still expected to go into the caring professions and men into technical work. Having more women go into science, technology, engineering and maths careers can go a long way towards redressing the balance, as can getting more men into traditionally female-dominated jobs, such as the care and early learning sectors.
The issue of home-work balance, including childcare responsibilities, is a fundamental barrier to equality in employment and in running businesses. Eight per cent of women are economically inactive because they are looking after the house and/or family, compared with only 1 per cent of men. Redressing that balance, and challenging the assumption of women being primary care givers, will also go a long way towards enabling more women to become entrepreneurs. Gabriela Ramos, chief of staff at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, named lack of childcare provision as the single biggest barrier to inclusive growth in developed countries. I am proud that the Scottish Government has recognised those barriers and is actively trying to break them down by doubling childcare provision in Scotland.
The universal basic income can play a role in encouraging entrepreneurship. Although it is often cited as a means of tackling poverty in our country, we should not underestimate the potential of a basic income to support a new wave of entrepreneurs by derisking the decision to start up a business—for both men and women, but particularly for women entrepreneurs—as a consequence of the flexible approach to work that a basic income can enable. I am glad that the Scottish Government has given some focus to understanding how to deploy a basic income, and I look forward to an assessment of what it could do to boost inclusive economic growth.
A gender-balanced economy is a more stable economy, a fairer economy and a more prosperous economy. Inequality hurts us all, and we need to engage the talents of all of our citizens, men and women, to take part in our economy to the fullest extent.
Like my colleagues, I pay tribute to Gillian Martin for hosting today’s debate, for the consistency with which she comes to the chamber to highlight the role of women in business and for her unstinting commitment to gender equality throughout her life—a life that brought her to this place. Equally, I congratulate everyone involved in global entrepreneurship week and all those involved in Women’s Enterprise Scotland.
Like so many issues affecting women, this fundamentally boils down to two things—the injustice of women’s inability to fulfil their potential, and the missed economic opportunity. Those arguments have been well rehearsed by other speakers already today. I have been angry enough on behalf of my gender this week, so I want to spend the rest of my time in the debate celebrating some women in business. It has been a privilege and pleasure for me to travel the country as leader of the Scottish Labour Party and meet women in business, and I want to talk specifically about some of those women I met along the way. Using Gillian Martin’s words, I want to make “a right good fuss” of a few of those women. Gillian Martin also encouraged us to think about the words “inclusion” and “internationalisation”, and those words apply to the four women I am going to mention.
Earlier this week, I had the great privilege of hosting the social enterprise awards in the Parliament, and I was struck by how many women are involved in social enterprises that not only operate as businesses but contribute back to their communities. My favourite one of those is Comas, which runs the Serenity Cafe just round the corner. Ruth Campbell is a huge social innovator, having left her civil service career behind to set up a social enterprise that provides work and employment opportunities for Edinburgh’s drug and alcohol recovering community. It also runs a project in Dumbiedykes, across the road, trying to increase the incomes of some very vulnerable and disadvantaged people there.
Something that could not be more different from that is the Firth of Forth Lobster Hatchery in North Berwick, which is run by Jane McMinn. She is single-handedly providing sustainable lobsters from the North Sea, and we can all enjoy the fruits of her labour in North Berwick. She was a skipper before she went into business, so she is quite an inspirational woman.
From those examples of inclusion and people who provide employment in their local communities, it is worth moving to the internationalisation agenda. The two women I want to mention here come from the Western Isles. When thinking about the challenges that people in the Western Isles face, I am often reminded of Peter May’s novels, where he tells us of how the adversity of the land in the Western Isles forces people to be more creative in their outlooks. Two of the women I met there are inspirational figures, not least Rhona Macdonald, who runs Charlie Barley’s black pudding business. She is an expert and her product, which I am sure we have all appreciated in our time, is exported to some of the finest restaurants in London and, indeed, around the world. Separately from that, it is worth recognising the work of Margaret Macleod, who is the brand development director for Harris Tweed Hebrides. I spent the day with her in the Western Isles and she even let me have a go on the mill, although I do not think that the fruits of that labour will ever leave the Western Isles.
Those are four examples of inspirational women succeeding in business who I am sure we can all learn from. I could go on and mention people such as Jacqui Gale, the chief executive officer of Arran Aromatics, who has taken an Arran product around the world to Japan, where it is sold and provided in some of the most exclusive hotels. However, I will stop there and simply say that I am delighted to participate in this debate and to spend a week celebrating the work of women in business. I know that everyone in the chamber will take part in that celebration but then redouble their efforts to get back to the business of supporting women in business.
I join others in thanking Gillian Martin for bringing the debate to the chamber and I pass on my officials’ thanks to her for giving us a year’s heads-up as to what her subject matter will be next year, so they can get prepared nice and early. I also thank both Gillian Martin and Jackie Baillie for all the important work that they do as the convener and deputy convener of the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on women in enterprise.
Global entrepreneurship week is very welcome and it is right and just that we have this debate on it today. The week is designed to get people to think about taking any ideas that they have and making them a reality to help drive our economy and social improvement. The week is also designed to connect people with regard to collaboration, mentoring and investment opportunities. It is an important initiative generally but, as we have debated previously in this specific context and in many contexts that relate to other aspects of the economy, it is especially important for us to reach out to those who are underrepresented in all parts of our economic activity. That has to include the area of entrepreneurship, so I very much welcome the terms of Gillian Martin’s motion in focusing the debate, particularly in relation to female entrepreneurship.
That a gender gap exists in enterprise is not in question. Currently, only around 20 per cent—a fifth—of Scotland’s small and medium-sized enterprises are led by women, and men are almost twice as likely as women to start businesses. Ivan McKee, like others, was correct to set out that that represents a huge waste of potential and a huge loss to Scotland’s economy and society. We are working to change that, and I will talk a little bit about that in a few moments. However, as I should do, I will first try to pick up on as many of the speeches that have been made during the debate as I can.
I was delighted to hear about the range of good activity in local areas across the country. All members referred to that but none more so than Kezia Dugdale, who I think finagled a reference to every part of the country into her speech. However, it is well worth putting all that activity on the record. If there is a particular activity that any member thinks I would benefit from visiting or seeing, I would be happy to receive an invitation to do that.
It was useful and salient for Kezia Dugdale to mention the Serenity Cafe in particular, because we tend to think—there is nothing wrong with this, of course—of entrepreneurship in terms of commercial activity, but it is not always about that. There is also a tremendous amount of entrepreneurial activity around creating social capital. Kezia Dugdale might like to know that, as part of living wage week, I was delighted to visit the Grassmarket Community Project, which won an award on Tuesday.
Given that this is global entrepreneurship week, I welcome the fact that Alexander Burnett brought an international perspective to the debate, which was useful—although I cannot promise to visit Azerbaijan.
Alexander Burnett mentioned the suggestion from the Federation of Small Businesses about classroom activity. Clearly, we will not sit here and direct what should happen in each classroom, but there is an opportunity for us to better influence that through the developing the young workforce activity that we are taking the length and breadth of the country, which is bringing employers in all sectors closer to the school environment. That represents an opportunity to take forward some of that work.
Ivan McKee and Jackie Baillie both spoke about gender stereotyping, which is an issue right across economic activity and it clearly filters through to entrepreneurial activity. We are working to challenge gender stereotyping, but I think that we would all accept that that is a long-term activity, because gender stereotypes are so well ingrained. I have said before that even all of us in the chamber who are working to challenge such stereotypes will be susceptible, from time to time, to reinforcing them unconsciously, so we always need to challenge ourselves as well as challenging others to step up to the mark.
In respect of economic activity, the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council has a gender action plan. Skills Development Scotland has its equality action plan, within which there is a specific commitment to better balance modern apprenticeship frameworks. Some progress has been made, but more has to be done.
A couple of weeks ago, my colleague Shirley-Anne Somerville launched the STEM strategy, a hugely important part of which is about challenging gender stereotyping, which is important to this debate. We know that there is a lot of activity in STEM areas and that a critical part of entrepreneurial activity is the creation of new ideas.
Jackie Baillie tried to invite me to an early Christmas. I should say that my children are already badgering me about Christmas, so why should members of the Scottish Parliament not start to do so, too? I cannot say that I will give Jackie Baillie a Christmas present here and now—
I have not brought my Santa suit, so I will not be Santa today. However, the project that Jackie Baillie mentioned sounds very worthy, so if she provides me with more details, I will be very willing to look at that area to see whether we can do more.
Bill Bowman welcomed the rise in self-employment activity. I welcome that cautiously, because I think that members would accept that a number of reasons have driven that rise. Some of those are positive—we are debating those today—but emergent changes in our economy have also led to a rise in self-employment in a way that is not so positive, because people are being driven to forms of employment where they do not have the full benefits and protections that someone in a traditional form of employment would have. Our labour market strategy is focusing on that, as is the strategic labour market group that I chair, so that we can better understand it.
I have taken more time than I meant to take in responding to everyone’s contributions. There is a range of activity under way through our framework. I will shortly be taking forward an action group to further embed the work that we do so that we can bring forward new ideas and continue to build on them.
I am delighted that we have had this debate. I should of course quickly thank Women’s Enterprise Scotland, because it has representatives in the gallery, for all the work that it does. It will be a part of the action group. It is a fantastic organisation that I have been happy to work with in the past and I will be happy to work with it again.
Let us commit to returning to this subject annually. It is clear that Ms Martin has grabbed the market in this regard and I am sure that it will be the subject of her members’ business debate again next year. I agree with Jackie Baillie that we should not just commit ourselves to having this debate once a year; we should think about the subject regularly. I commit myself to doing so and I am very happy to work with members the length and breadth of the chamber, across all parties, to that end.
13:30 Meeting suspended.
14:15 On resuming—