Women mean business

Women walking

Last week David Cameron announced that he has boosted the government’s start-up loans scheme by £30m and extended its age limit from 24 to 30, a move which the shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna in general welcomed but rightly challenged. With our economy flatlining, Labour has said that it is essential that initiatives like the start-up loans are delivered effectively if they are to provide real opportunities for our young entrepreneurs and change the game so that all feel they have a stake and a fair share in Britain’s prosperity.

With over one million women out of work, the highest for a generation, it is also vital that such schemes support and encourage budding female entrepreneurs – something so far the coalition has failed to do. Last week I called on the government to do more to tackle the UK gender gap in entrepreneurship by implementing a national strategy to increase and better support women business owners.

A report by the Women’s Enterprise Task Force which ran from 2006-9 found that businesses run by women contribute £130bn annually to the UK economy – an incredible statistic considering that women are only half as likely as men to set up a business to begin with. Home Office research also suggests that £42bn would be added to the UK economy if we had the same level of female entrepreneurship as in the US, and if women started businesses at the same rate as men there could be an additional 150,000 extra start-ups each year in the UK.

Supporting female entrepreneurship is vital for our economic recovery, as well as the progress of women. However, women I have met who are setting up their own businesses have told me that they have no idea where to go to seek advice, and that there is a huge gulf between their lives and Whitehall. Women often have less developed personal networks, less access to finance, and struggle to access the quality business support that meets their needs. In 2013 we need a national strategy to see business schemes delivered in new ways so that they reach women at a local level. That’s why next month we will be introducing a new pilot mentoring scheme for local women-led businesses when we launch a new local business network.

Some measures introduced by the current government have been steps forward but fall far short of what is needed to bring about a step-change in female entrepreneurship. With the New Enterprise Allowance Scheme, which was created to help young unemployed people start their own business, just 17 per cent of those benefitting from the scheme in 2011 were female. Recent analysis suggests this now stands at 28 per cent, but it is still much too low.

Women mean business, and so far the coalition is failing female entrepreneurs. This year we need a new focus on women business owners to make sure we see the next generation of Anita Roddicks and Laura Tenisons.

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Seema Malhotra is the Labour MP for Feltham and Heston. She tweets @SeemaMalhotra1

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Photo: Flatfield

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