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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Meg debates Small Business

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Westminster Hall debate - Small Business

26 Feb 2003 : Column 110WH

2.32 pm
Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Luke) on securing this debate. I am pleased to have the opportunity to take part, because I also have an interest in small businesses in the north of England, although obviously my hon. Friend is from a bit further north. I shall focus on the importance of small businesses to strong regional economies and, in doing so, I will identify particular ways of doing business. There are some business organisations in my part of the world that could be employed in other parts of Britain. I shall also focus briefly on women entrepreneurs.
A couple of weeks ago, the regional development agency, Yorkshire Forward, launched its 10-year regional economic strategy and focused on the skills that will be needed for the region to progress over the next 10 years. It also identified the need for more small businesses and greater growth. I am especially pleased that in Sheffield, as well as the usual business support that the Government have introduced, for example, through the Small Business Service business links programme, we have agencies that offer support to businesses to help them become established, to grow and succeed.
Sheffield Chamber of Commerce is one of the most successful in the country. I attended an event last week when it took over responsibility for the Sheffield Enterprise Agency, which takes referrals from the Small Business Service to help people to launch their businesses. The most interesting speech of the evening?even more interesting than my own?was from a young woman who had been in the beauty business for only eight weeks. She was clearly very experienced in her area of work. She had worked for major companies such as Yves Saint Laurent or Yves Rocher? Yves somebody-or-other, anyway?and had managed the training for people throughout the UK, but she decided that she wanted to have a better work-life balance. She wanted to use her skills to set up her own beauty treatment business from home, and she had been enabled to do that with the support of the Sheffield Enterprise Agency.
Sheffield Chamber of Commerce also has responsibility for the South Yorkshire international trade centre, which works with businesses to see how they can take advantage of the opportunities to export to the EU and more widely. That scheme is recognised as successful. Those involved with the trade centre enjoyed Prince Andrew"s visit last month, during which he learned about the work that is being done there.
We are not only interested in businesses created from one model. In Sheffield, we have a long-established co-operative development agency, and I am especially pleased that more than 10 per cent. of the Labour co-operative MPs have taken an interest in the debate and are present today. That shows how important mutuals and social enterprise are to the economy. It is pleasing to know that work is being done to put into action the Department of Trade and Industry"s clear aim of more support for social enterprises. I welcome the proposals for a more supportive legislative environment, and I welcome the fact that in future each business link must plan to support social enterprises. I would be pleased to hear from the Minister about that area of work when he has the time to respond.
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There are some excellent examples in my constitutency. Heeley City Farm is not just part of the city farm movement; it has expanded to provide training through the new deal, it has a garden centre and caf? and it has just been awarded money to develop a large community composting scheme. Next to that we have Heeley Development Trust, which is a community-owned organisation that manages community resources. That provides a particularly interesting model, because it tries to do what the Government want such organisations to do. It aims to own buildings and rent them out, so that it can move from being grant-funded to being self sufficient. Sheffield Rebuild is also a good example of social enterprise, and it is one of the fastest growing businesses in Sheffield. It trains young people entering the construction industry, and it supplies building services to social housing providers in Sheffield. It recently won a special social enterprise award in the inner city 100 awards.
Small businesses struggle, and I have visited some in my constituency. The owner of Ponsford"s furniture store told me that one of his real problems was how to deal with the range of issues involved in running a small business without a large supporting personnel department and particular expertise. For that reason, I welcome the red tape busting roadshow initiative led by the Yorkshire and Humber Chamber of Commerce, which travels throughout Yorkshire giving advice to small businesses, such as telling them where they can go when they have a problem. The reality for many small businesses is that certain problems do not arise every day: they may come across some issues only every now and then. By offering small businesses signposts to the organisations that can help them, they may become less isolated and more confident in dealing with the range of regulations.
One arguments says that we should have less regulation, but I will talk later about women in business and about the benefits that they have received from various changes that the Government have introduced. We must recognise that such changes are often beneficial to the business community and to the economy, and that it is important to enable small businesses to deal with the relevant issues.
Hon. Members may know that I asked a question last week about the DTI"s work on developing help for women entrepreneurs. I was able to use that to highlight the fact that a survey undertaken by Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2002, which is a worldwide survey of entrepreneurial activity, showed that in Yorkshire and Humberside women are leading men. I received some good press coverage about the Yorkshire lasses?a term that I do not take offence at.
Although women are ahead of men in Yorkshire and Humberside, the level of entrepreneurial activity is still low compared with the eastern region, which my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Pollard) mentioned. Overall, men in the UK are twice as likely to set up a business as women. If women were setting up small businesses at the same rate as men, there would be 100,000 new businesses a year.
What can be done? A range of things can be done. When I first went to the Sheffield Business Club I was surprised to see the number of women there. Many of them, like the young woman I mentioned earlier, had been working for somebody else, but had decided that
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they had the skills and ability to work on their own. They were getting support from other people through the Sheffield small business initiatives and advice on where to get help. Those women were feeling their way through, and, as the young woman said last week, starting to feel more confident in realising and living their dreams. There are some wonderful examples of successful businesses. The Minister was complimentary about diva*, which is a female-run, public relations company in Sheffield that recently won three awards. The women there have told me that they now need help to move on to the next stage. That is an area that my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) mentioned earlier. The Small Business Service is to provide support for fast-growing businesses.
Other aspects of Government policy also help women, such as improved child care resources. Indeed, many women are going into the business sector of child care. There is the increased financial support for families, such as the child tax credit, and higher child benefit, which enables women to afford child care and gives them the space to set up their businesses. There is also the Government"s strategy for more flexible working, which means that parents are better able to combine their working lives with their family responsibilities. I do not believe that that causes problems for business, contrary to what some might say. When businesses can adapt to that strategy and positively embrace it, they keep their staff and do not have the expensive problem of recruiting additional people.
I know that many other hon. Members want to contribute to the debate, so I shall conclude. We want more small businesses to grow and to be provided with more support. Some of the organisations that operate in my constituency could be replicated elsewhere to support people going into business. We want to encourage a range of support, especially child care, to enable women to go forward and take up opportunities.

2.42 pm



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