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.