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.