Meeting date: Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Meeting of the Parliament 15 November 2016
Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Point of Order, Single Market and Trade (European Union Referendum), Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, Business Motion, Decision Time, Women-led Business
- Time for Reflection
- Topical Question Time
- Point of Order
- Single Market and Trade (European Union Referendum)
- Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body
- Business Motion
- Decision Time
- Women-led Business
The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-01890, in the name of Jackie Baillie, on supporting women-led businesses and global entrepreneurship week. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
Those members who wish to speak should press their request-to-speak buttons now. I call Jackie Baillie to open the debate. You have seven minutes, please, Ms Baillie.
That the Parliament welcomes initiatives taking place during Global Entrepreneurship Week from 14 to 18 November 2016 and, in particular, the work of Women’s Enterprise Scotland in promoting and supporting women into business; notes that women business owners will be attending the Parliament on 15 November to take part in training so that more women are available to give evidence to parliamentary committees, and also to speak to MSPs at the invitation of the newly-established Cross Party Group on Women in Enterprise; considers that women are still held back by gender-blind policy making in economic development, and highlights the importance of work to tackle the gender gap in enterprise in Scotland; further considers that adopting a gender-appropriate approach to all enterprise and growth policies is critical to meet the needs of women-led businesses and to unlock the economic potential of women in Scotland; acknowledges that the gathering and analysis of gender-disaggregated data is crucial to support measurement of the economic impact in closing the gender gap in enterprise, and recognises that if the rates of women-led businesses equalled those of men, the contribution to Scotland's GVA would increase from £7.6 billion to £13 billion, representing a 5.4% growth in the Scottish economy.17:07
Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. It gives me great pleasure to open this debate about the importance of women in enterprise during global entrepreneurship week. This annual event is about getting more people involved in thinking about setting up in business, and tomorrow there is a specific focus on women’s entrepreneurship, aptly named women’s Wednesday. Our ambition should be to have the focus on women’s enterprise every day and not just one day of the week.
I pay tribute to the work of Women’s Enterprise Scotland. Working together with its partners, WES has ensured that Scotland is leading Europe on a best-practice approach to women’s enterprise. WES is celebrating this week by bringing together its ambassadors, who come from all different businesses and backgrounds. They act as really encouraging role models for women who are starting out in business—the knowledge that someone has done it already and faced barriers but overcome them is empowering, indeed. I very much welcome many of the ambassadors to the public gallery this evening.
After the debate, we will move on to a cross-party group meeting on women’s enterprise, convened by my colleague Gillian Martin; I invite any members who are free to come along and learn.
The contribution of women-led businesses to the Scottish economy is significant, but it could be even more substantial. Although women represent 51 per cent of the population, just 20 per cent of businesses are majority owned by women. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average is 30 per cent, so we are lagging well behind. Fewer than 2 per cent of working women in the United Kingdom are business owners, compared with the OECD average of 10 per cent. Those stats are clearly not great.
The number of women-led small and medium-sized businesses has fallen from 22 to 20 per cent since the Scottish Government was elected in 2007. We all share an ambition to increase the number of women-led businesses, but for me that demonstrates that we need to get beyond the warm words and take substantive action. Women are underrepresented in many of the growth sectors that are targeted by Scottish Enterprise. Research was carried out in 2013 that sought to identify the number of female managing directors or chief executive officers in companies with a turnover of more than £5.6 million or with 250 plus employees. Of the 5,230 companies that fit that category, only 1 per cent were led by women—just 1 per cent—and 408 were account managed by Scottish Enterprise, which is good, but only 3 per cent of those were female led. That shows what a huge distance we still need to travel.
However, it also shows that there is a huge opportunity. We know that women-led businesses contribute at least £5 billion in gross value added every year to the Scottish economy. If the number of women-led businesses equalled the number led by men, the contribution to Scotland’s GVA would increase by £7.6 billion, taking it to £13 billion each year. That is more than a 5 per cent increase in the size of the Scottish economy, which is truly staggering.
There is such potential to grow our economy, but we need to do much more to encourage that to happen. We have a strategic framework for women’s enterprise in Scotland, and I disagree with very little in it, but where is the action and the resource required to make it real? We need a step change in effort if we are to create opportunities to grow women’s enterprise and unlock that potential.
The Scottish Enterprise figure should not make for comfortable reading. It is an illustration of gender blindness in policy making. Focus is placed on high-growth companies and women-specific growth support is not provided because women-led businesses do not meet the thresholds, so they are largely excluded from growth support. However, we know that women’s businesses are different. There are different skills and experiences and they have slower but often more sustainable growth, yet we do not recognise that difference in the support that we provide.
Let me offer the minister some food for thought. Let us make sure that there is an understanding of the difference. All SE and HIE account managers should be given gender-appropriate training that reflects the differing nature of women’s enterprise. Let us do that for business gateway advisers as well. There are some really good examples of best practice across the country, but that is not standard. It should be happening everywhere.
Let us also start collecting stats. I had a debate with someone called Eddie on “Call Kaye” this morning. It was fascinating, but I hope never to debate with him again, because he accused me of making up the stats—of sitting at my desk and somehow twiddling the figures. However, stats are not optional or voluntary, and I do not make them up. If we are serious and mean business, we need to know about women’s enterprise. We need to know the number and nature of businesses, what helps them to start up and what helps them to grow. At the moment, we do not really bother to count that in a systematic way. Even the Scottish Government’s publication “Businesses in Scotland” simply fails to disaggregate the data by gender, so we do not know how many businesses are women led.
There is so much more to do, at local level with business gateway, at national level with SE and HIE and with the Scottish Government, too. Let us identify what matters and then measure it, because only then will we know whether we are succeeding. Let us set a target against which the enterprise agencies and Government will be held accountable, because that will focus attention.
Finally, let us have more gender-appropriate services. Let us review the existing approach and remove the barriers to women setting up in business. There is a clear need to mainstream a gender-sensitive approach in all entrepreneurship and growth policies so that we meet the specific characteristics, needs and challenges of women setting up in business.
Let me remind members why that is so important. We could grow our economy by a staggering 5 per cent—more growth, more jobs and more revenue through taxes for public services. At a time of economic uncertainty, slowing growth and public sector cuts, what is not to like about that? I urge the minister to work with Women’s Enterprise Scotland, local government and the enterprise agencies in devising that more focused approach.
We do not need more pilot projects. We do not need little announcements of small amounts of money. What we need is a step change in policy and resourcing. This issue needs to be mainstream, not just added on.
Finally, it is only when we do those things and encourage more women into business that we will unlock the potential for our economy. That potential, quite simply, is huge.
I enjoy your “finally, finallys”, Ms Baillie.17:15
If there is one number that members remember after listening to our contributions, make it this one: £7.6 billion. That is how many pounds would go into the Scottish economy if the same number of women as men started up in business every year.
How many jobs would be created if that were achieved? How much income tax would be generated? How many of those businesses might go on to operate globally? How many girls would be encouraged by looking at that changed landscape?
The big question is why there is still a stubborn gender enterprise gap. What are we doing to close that gap and maximise our economic potential, both globally and nationally?
I have only four minutes, so I focus on two reasons: gender blindness in business support and endemic discriminatory attitudes in the business world. The Federation of Small Businesses found that more than a third of women business owners have experienced discrimination as businesswomen; common instances were mistakes about a woman’s role in the business and assumptions that a male employee was the business owner. A Glasgow businesswoman who runs two very successful bars in the city with her husband told me that suppliers would automatically presume that they should speak to her husband about business decisions. One incredible instance was when she and her husband visited a brewery as potential clients. On their arrival, the brewery manager suggested to her husband:
“Your wife might like to have a browse in the gift shop while we have our meeting.”
Is it any wonder that he lost their business? We have work to do before attitudes like that are a thing of the past. What better way of tackling those attitudes than ensuring that enterprise is full of strong, successful women.
Research and feedback highlight the issue and impact of structural discrimination for women-led businesses when they access enterprise support. Ms Baillie referred to that discrimination and pointed out that only three per cent of Scottish Enterprise managed accounts are female-led. Criticism has focused on the narrow parameters of the criteria on which that support is allocated.
Research shows that woman are more modest when talking about their successes and less likely to see their businesses as prospering, even when they report higher profits than their male counterparts. Turnover is not their only priority; women who lead businesses view growth as a sustainable process rather than a fast, high trajectory. They focus on broader community measures such as employment, fair working practices and quality of service and product, rather than just turnover. Seventy-eight per cent of respondents to the Women’s Enterprise Scotland survey stated that services should be more aware of the differences in support needs between women and men in business; appropriate peer support was listed as being particularly desirable.
Today, I welcome to Parliament two groups of incredible women entrepreneurs, some of whom are in the public gallery. They include business ambassadors from Women’s Enterprise Scotland who are playing a vital role in mentoring women who are starting, or growing, their businesses. Tonight, the cross-party group that I convene on women in enterprise will hear from wives and partners of servicemen. They have just completed the first Women’s Enterprise Scotland business creation course at Glencorse barracks; in only 10 weeks, women who were previously economically inactive have started up trading businesses. I encourage mainstream business support agencies to look at how those successful support programmes have worked and to be open to adopting some of their innovative mentoring strategies.
Global entrepreneurship does not happen without the right kind of support. If we still have a gender enterprise gap in 2016, we must look again at how we nurture the seedlings of small businesses run by women so that the female global entrepreneurs of the future get the best possible chance of being discovered.17:19
I want to echo the sentiments that have been expressed in the chamber today regarding the great work that Women’s Enterprise Scotland and the Association of Scottish Businesswomen do in supporting women into business, and thank Gillian Martin for setting up the cross-party group on women in enterprise.
Women play a pivotal role in the economy across the UK, and businesses that are led by women contribute billions to the economy. Since 2010, there has been an increase of about 170,000 small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK, and those businesses contribute around £85 billion per year in GVA to the UK non-financial business economy.
Real progress has been made. We now have the highest number of women in work on record, and there are no longer any male-only boards in the FTSE 100. However, I am under no illusion about the fact that more needs to be done by the UK Government and the Scottish Government.
There is widespread consensus that a better gender balance would benefit our economy. As Jackie Baillie has rightly pointed out, if there was equal participation of women in business, the contribution to Scotland’s GVA could increase by as much as £5.5 billion.
Analysis shows that only 31 per cent of women feel that they have the skills to start a business, compared to nearly 50 per cent of men. Further, nearly 50 per cent of women, compared with under 40 per cent of men, say that fear of failure would stop them from starting a business.
What would improve this situation and constitute a gender-appropriate approach to all enterprise and growth policies? It should not be the case that women have to choose between having a successful career and having a baby. They should always be able to pursue their goals. That is why I welcome the Scottish Government’s plan to raise the number of childcare hours to 30 hours a week in line with the UK changes, as well as a later commitment to a more flexible system. I also welcome the UK Government’s introduction of a new shared parental leave scheme, which will benefit mothers in Scotland.
However, as the figures show, encouraging women into business also depends on the advice and support that is on offer, as well as on sending a wider message to women that they are capable of starting their own businesses.
A survey of women-owned businesses in 2014 found that mentoring was a popular choice among respondents. Nearly a quarter stated that they would like a mentor in the future and 90 per cent of those who had been mentored said that they felt that it had been helpful. Women’s Enterprise Scotland has been instrumental in that regard, championing gender-specific enterprise support and a network in which women can collaborate and communicate.
In the region that I represent—Glasgow—I was pleased to see the work of Scottish Women in Business, a charity organisation that holds monthly networking events that allow women to meet and do business.
I was also encouraged to see the UK Government’s announcement last year of £50,000 of funding to create new networking opportunities for women in business through its meet a mentor scheme. The example of Monica Coyle who, after attending a meet a mentor event in Glasgow earlier this year, went on to start her own fledging enterprise—Positive Pulse Scotland—shows that these methods work, and I welcome any continued initiatives in that regard.
If we are to see the equalisation of women in business, we must be bold in our approach. Of course, I welcome the record number of women in business, but I echo the view expressed by those in chamber today, and by Jackie Baillie’s motion, that much more needs to be done.17:23
I congratulate Jackie Baillie on securing this debate and pay tribute to her efforts in this field.
I never thought that I would do this in the chamber, or, indeed, in my political life, but I also want to pay tribute to another group of people: the bankers. I would be grateful if the chamber would allow me to explain myself over the next few minutes.
I want to pay tribute to not just any bankers, but the Royal Bank of Scotland in particular, which is the market leader when it comes to supporting women in business. RBS has 400 women in business specialists across the United Kingdom, working with female entrepreneurs every day. In its most recent entrepreneurship monitor, it talks about the differences between the type of support that women and men need in business and cautions us, saying that, although those differences are small, they have been consistent throughout all the times that it has issued its monitoring report. RBS notes a variety of reasons why women might be less likely than men to go into business, including the fact that women are more likely to experience a fear of failure; that women worry more about finding start-up money to enable them to take that leap into business; that women worry more in general about the economic situation facing the country; and that women worry more about their skill set and the abilities that they might or might not have.
Further, RBS examines the type of business that women are more likely to start up, and notes that the measures of success are different for women than for men. Women tend to be far more interested in producing a quality brand, whereas, surprisingly, the men are more interested in making a quick buck. There are substantial differences.
I think you are upsetting Mr Leonard.
The conclusion that I draw from that is that women do not necessarily face any greater challenges in accessing business than men do, but they face different challenges. Any economic strategy that a Government argues for needs to cater for those different needs. If we end up with an economic strategy that is classically determined to meet the needs of men, of course we will lose out on the opportunity for women to step into business for the first time.
As other speakers have mentioned, overcoming those barriers is an economic imperative for us all, because of the economic growth that could come from doing so. The RBS report mentions potentially £60 billion-worth of additional revenue for the UK economy, which we all know would be critical to our public services.
There are two reasons why I want to thank the bankers. One is RBS’s commitment to doing that work and to identifying those challenges from its experience. The second is the money that RBS puts directly into Entrepreneurial Spark, which members across the chamber may be familiar with. It offers direct support not just to women but to everybody to take a leap into business. I have had the great pleasure of visiting Entrepreneurial Spark in Brighton, Glasgow and, just yesterday, in Edinburgh, my home city. I was struck by the fantastic work that is taking place there.
Entrepreneurial Spark has also evaluated its work. It is interesting that the average age of a woman who accesses the programme is 30, while the average age of a man is 52. I asked to explore the reasons why that is, and heard that the reality is that the typical woman who uses Entrepreneurial Spark is returning to work after a period of looking after her kids—that is, returning to work full stop—whereas the typical man who uses it is seeking a change in career after something has happened in his life—a crisis point such as leaving the service. Those men are now looking to access help in starting a business from that perspective.
I met six women yesterday. One is setting up an urban dance company, somebody else is providing social media expertise for Edinburgh Airport through their own company, one has set up a marketing agency to pitch to bring major events to Scotland and another one is developing 21st-century harnesses for children. Another two women have set up a healthy chocolate factory. If women can achieve anything in this world, it would be chocolate that is good for you—that is happening in Stirling right now. I have made a personal commitment to all those women that I will do what I can to support them in business, although the chances are far more likely that I will get to the chocolate factory than that I will go to the break-dancing sessions any time soon.
To conclude with the lessons from that experience, it was clear to me that to help women succeed in business, we need a combination of collaboration and environments like Entrepreneurial Spark that help women to overcome the barriers. Those barriers are not any greater than anyone else’s—they are just different. We need an economic strategy that recognises that.
Thank you. I think that the breaking news will be healthy chocolate, Ms Dugdale—that is all that we will remember from your speech.17:28
I thank Jackie Baillie for bringing this debate to the Parliament and allowing us the opportunity to explore the important issues that it raises.
Scotland needs to be more enterprising. We suffer from a lack of start-up businesses—the problem is decades old, but we have seen advances in recent years. Fixing it requires a combination of changes in attitudes and policy. In some sectors in society, we have further to travel than in others. We see the problem in a lack of aspiration across many of our most deprived communities. We see it in low levels of business activity across marginalised groups in society. We see it in the stark contrast in business start-up rates and other key economic metrics between genders.
It is on that enterprise gender gap that we focus today. The motion mentions some numbers that are taken from the Women’s Enterprise Scotland 2012 framework document. As we have heard, if women started businesses at the same rate as men, it would add another £7 billion to the gross value added in Scotland’s economy, which would be a useful 5 per cent boost to the growth rate.
However, I believe that the size of the prize is potentially far greater. The culture of doing business is contagious, and embedding it transforms attitudes and performance. The creation of more women-led businesses would lead to the creation of more men-led, and jointly led, businesses, too. This is not a zero-sum game.
Business start-up requires creativity, seeing opportunities 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 successfully satisfy them. We cannot afford not to engage the innovative talents of half the population.
In my constituency, the east end connections network meets monthly at Drygate. It promotes all kinds of business locally and is ably led by Fiona Colbron-Brown. The network shows not only that women can start and lead businesses but that they can and should enable the structures that help those businesses to grow. Women are often great networkers, which is a key element of business growth and success.
Women’s Enterprise Scotland, the organisation that is leading the way on the issue, makes some simple recommendations to support and encourage more women-led business start-ups. Those recommendations include gender-balanced panels and role models, appropriate language, tone and images in literature and advertising, and promotion through existing networks to ensure good gender balance at events.
Challenging gender-stereotyped attitudes that restrict the start-up and growth of women-led businesses will deliver benefits here and in other areas of the economy where the gender imbalance is marked. The pay gap is one of the most significant of those areas, and the need for more women in senior positions across the private, public and third sectors is another. Home-work balance, including in childcare responsibilities, is also correctly identified as a major barrier to women-led enterprises.
The recent Scottish Government report on the gender pay gap highlights the underlying drivers that work against there being more women in business. One of the most significant of those is persistent attitudes towards the stereotyped roles of women and men at home and in the workplace. There is a view across society that it is preferable for women, rather than men, to take on more of the work disruption that is associated with having a family. Family-friendly structures are often mentioned as enabling women to play more of an active economic role, but we will only make the huge strides that we need to make to equalise women’s participation in business when we tackle the societal norms around gender-stereotyped roles. More women in business and more dads looking after kids are two sides of the same coin. Shared parenting is a key driver of gender balance in the economy.
The appetite for growth is there in the 87 per cent of women-led businesses that want to grow. We need those businesses to thrive to support our economy and to give the women who lead them, and many others who will follow in their wake, the opportunity to realise their potential and contribute to Scotland’s economy.17:32
I thank Jackie Baillie for initiating such an important debate. As a woman who ran my own business in a previous life, I am delighted to contribute to it.
“Don’t take a job, make a job!”
More people across the UK are following that maxim as they see self-employment as offering challenges and the prospect of good rewards. Unfortunately, too few are in Scotland and fewer still are women, with men still twice as likely as women to start up businesses. With only 21 per cent of Scotland’s small and medium-sized businesses being led solely by women, there is a continued need to encourage a high level of business start-ups among women, particularly young women and women from minority backgrounds.
The headline figures indicate that more than 70,000 Scots women are registered business owners and almost 100,000 are self-employed. Those businesses contribute a minimum of £5 billion to the Scottish economy. However, the numbers involved are proportionally lower than in most other high-income countries, and it has been estimated that, if men and women had equal business start-up rates, a further 100,000 businesses would be established in Scotland.
Scottish Government figures show a decline in the number of new businesses, while the number across the rest of the UK is rising rapidly, so the contribution that women can make to boost business start-ups is more vital than ever. Scotland has 210 small businesses per 10,000 of the population, which is much less than the figure for the rest of the UK, and employment in Scotland is far more reliant on larger companies. Businesses drive growth in the economy, and women can play an important part in bridging the shortfall of business start-ups in Scotland.
Women who are already in business relish as positive reasons for having taken the plunge the challenges, independence and rewards, as well as some flexibility in working hours, particularly in relation to childcare arrangements. The ability to adapt to the range of skills that are necessary to run a successful business comes as readily to women as to men. Running a budget, dealing with issues and problems as they arise, administrative work, thinking for the longer term, and being able deal with the inevitable setbacks are well known to most women—multitasking.
Some skills are within individuals and some can be learned, but the framework for running a successful business is heavily influenced by others. That is why we need to foster a true spirit of enterprise in Scotland, for everyone, from every background.
The Westminster Government, the Scottish Government and local government all need to play a part. They need to make setting up businesses easier by having less red tape and less form-filling and by keeping taxes as low as possible. We have recently discussed the importance of suitable childcare provision. Councils and others need to provide a suitable mix of retail and commercial units for start-ups.
More than two years ago, the framework and action plan for women’s enterprise was published. By and large, it is a good document that recognises the need to increase entrepreneurship, if not the route to get there. However, more needs to be done to put that vision into action instead of the document becoming yet another from the Scottish Government that is left to gather dust.
The Scottish Government’s encouragement and support for people to set up their own businesses must come through action, not words. Happily, there are excellent groups that promote women in business. The Association of Scottish Businesswomen offers great support and networking to women starting up businesses and to more established enterprises. It gives encouragement through its awards scheme. I congratulate Dorothy Henke of Forth Valley Chamber of Commerce in Falkirk on being named as one of the winners of the 2016 women of inspiration awards. Many other groups also do great work in enabling women’s enterprise and creativity. I commend them all and once again thank Jackie Baillie for raising the topic.17:36
I thank Jackie Baillie for bringing forward the debate. As she mentioned, the timing is particularly appropriate, given that this is global entrepreneurship week. I thank members for their speeches. This is an opportunity for me to outline this Government’s commitment—the commitment that we have made and continue to make—to supporting women in business.
Like others, I welcome Women’s Enterprise Scotland’s vital and important role. I will readily respond to Jackie Baillie’s very generous invitation to work with Women’s Enterprise Scotland. I will be very happy to do so. Indeed, I met Women’s Enterprise Scotland earlier today and was very pleased to meet some of its ambassadors during one of their sessions at Edinburgh city chambers. Like others, I welcome some of the ambassadors to the public gallery.
When I met the ambassadors, I was interested to hear about the two-day training programme that they are undertaking, which will give them additional skills and experience to help other women to start businesses. I look forward to hearing more about their first day in Edinburgh when I join the cross-party group on women in enterprise later. In case Ms Baillie wonders where I am, I must first attend a reception with the Construction Industry Training Board. I thank Gillian Martin and other members for getting the cross-party group up and running. It is a group that I will be very happy to continue to engage with over my time in post.
The Scottish Government is committed to increasing the number of women in business. The latest statistics show that since the Government came into office, there has been a 35 per cent increase in the number of women who are self-employed—the highest number since records began. However, I recognise that we need to get underneath the skin of the figures. The number will not entirely be driven by women’s desire to take forward their own entrepreneurial activity, although many of the women involved will have been driven by such a desire.
I agree absolutely with Jackie Baillie’s point—there is considerable room for movement in a positive direction. We are behind comparable nations and clearly we need to do much better, not least because of the very important principle of greater equality in the labour market. I will return to that point in more detail if time allows.
Jackie Baillie, Kezia Dugdale and other members made the point that the economy could be boosted significantly if there were as many female-led businesses as there are businesses that are led by men. That would self-evidently be good for our economy, and it would benefit public revenues too.
When I met the ambassadors today, I was pleased to announce further funding of £200,000 to support female entrepreneurship. That funding will support the Women’s Enterprise Scotland ambassadors programme, which recognises the central importance of the mentoring role that Annie Wells described; the investing women project, which helps female-led businesses to become investment ready and brings them together with female investors; and the role of Women’s Enterprise Scotland, working with partners across our enterprise agencies, to deliver a report on best practice in tackling the gender gap in enterprise. It will also support the Scottish Chambers of Commerce in developing and piloting a new women’s enterprise accelerator programme, which will work with women who lead small businesses.
It seems that Jackie Baillie is itching to come in—I have read her mind. I will give way
We both detected that, minister. I call Ms Baillie.
I thank the minister for taking an intervention. The £200,000 is a welcome continuation of the funding that is already in place. However, does he agree that, in order to create the step change that I know he wants to see, we need to do an awful lot better than that?
Indeed—I am glad to have facilitated that opportunity for a desperate Jackie Baillie to intervene on me. As I said at the outset of my speech, we can do considerably more.
As I said, members have made positive speeches in which they gave examples of how WES is supporting women in business. As is frequently the case—and as should be the case—in members’ business debates, many members highlighted examples of good practice in their own areas.
Unfortunately, I did not listen to “Call Kaye” this morning, so I am not entirely au fait with Ms Baillie’s exchange with Eddie. She said that she hopes never to have to debate him again; I am not sure how Eddie feels about that. I agree with her point about the quality of the statistics and data that we collect, which is why in our labour market strategy we commit to improving in that respect.
That commitment is also set out in the “Enterprise and Skills Review: Report on Phase 1”. The review will, in its second phase, look at all factors around supporting enterprise. I take on board the points that Jackie Baillie made—which were not unreasonable—about the role of our agencies in supporting Women’s Enterprise Scotland, and I will ensure that those points are fed into the next stage of the review.
Kezia Dugdale surprised us all with her suggestion that chocolate is good for us, which is welcome news for us all—in particular for you, Presiding Officer. [Laughter.]
I missed that. Was it some kind of insult that flew past me?
It was not an insult, Presiding Officer—I heard you cheering merrily when you heard that chocolate is good for us.
Kezia Dugdale praised bankers, and RBS in particular, for the sector’s important role in reflecting the critical importance of the equality agenda for businesses. She also highlighted the role of those who are doing good work in talking about the benefits to enable others to follow them.
Annie Wells and Alison Harris outlined the importance of childcare, on which I agree, although I caution members against making the assumption that the childcare agenda must be based on the need to support women into the labour market. That is part of it, but childcare also plays a role in supporting men into the labour market, and we need to be cautious about the language that we use when we speak about that agenda. Work is under way to increase the number of childcare hours and the amount of flexible provision.
As ever, I see that I am up against the clock with regard to the time that is available to me to respond to the debate. I recognise that gender equality is much wider than enterprise, and it is a fundamental ambition of the Scottish Government to ensure that men and women have equal opportunities in employment and to participate in the labour market. That is essential for our potential as a nation, and it is a critical part of the fair work agenda, which we are progressing through the fair work convention. I was pleased to set out in the labour market strategy approximately £500,000 for the fair work convention, which will seek to roll out its framework in workplaces throughout the country. I was also delighted to announce funding for Equate Scotland’s women returners project, which is the first element of our women returners initiative.
It is critical that we seek fairness in our labour market and that we do rather better than we have done in relation to women in enterprise. There is no single catch-all method for doing that. Women’s Enterprise Scotland not only recognises that organisations and businesses have a responsibility to behave ethically and support that agenda but trumpets that doing so can be good for business and the wider economy. With the support of such organisations, we can make the progress that is needed to support women into the world of enterprise. The cost of failing to do that will be too high and the benefits of achieving it are too great for us not to seek to make that progress.Meeting closed at 17:46.