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.