AS I SEE IT: Terry Murden says the SNP champions its female credentials but the evidence tells a different story
Women are judged to have been hit harder by a year of lockdowns, suffering from a combination of domestic pressures and the fact that they make up a large part of the workforce most impacted: the care sector, hospitality, travel and retail. So what about those who have been running their own businesses?
While the pandemic transcends party politics, there are those who feel more could have been done to accept the gender imbalance among its economic victims. As the SNP has been the party making the decisions in Scotland over the past year, it is the SNP that has questions to answer.
The Scottish government, for instance, has withheld a chunk of grant support to the largely female-led beauty salon sector. This is a small example, but one that is needlessly punitive. One female-led chain, Pure Spa & Beauty, is so outraged it is considering legal action on the grounds of sex discrimination.
Whether that is the case or not, the anger is understandable when all that was required was for ministers to copy and paste the more generous grant system in operation south of the border. This would have avoided a growing frustration among female business leaders that the case is symptomatic of a government failing to turn its promises to support women into action.
To add insult to industry, only last month the Finance Secretary Kate Forbes promised to create a £50m Women’s Business Centre as “too few women get the help they need to start out in business.” Last week it was confirmed as part of the SNP’s election manifesto, a promise that will raise newly-trimmed eyebrows when the beauty salons open this week with a third of the grant support available to salons in England and Wales.
The SNP likes to think of itself as the party of women, but its track record tells a different story. In March 2014, six months before the independence referendum, the SNP-led government unveiled a “framework and action plan to increase the impact of women’s enterprise to the Scottish economy”. It was hailed as the first of its kind anywhere in the EU and demonstrated Scotland’s determination, through the commitments of partners from across all sectors, to tackle the gender gap in enterprise.
Three years later statistics revealed that less than a quarter of new businesses in Scotland were being established by women. In a “refreshed framework” in 2017 Nicola Sturgeon said this was why “Government, business and business leaders together must accelerate our shared efforts to deliver change.”
Since then there have been more initiatives, programmes and award schemes to promote women in enterprise, in engineering and in the digital sector.
Yet women-owned businesses are still only 20% of the business base in Scotland, not only defying government policies, but also efforts by various private sector led schemes to promote the proportion of women running businesses.
In February 2019 a £100,000 fund was launched by the Scottish Chambers of Commerce alongside the Scottish Association of Business Women to help drive entrepreneurship among females in Scotland. It may be too early to expect results, but has there been an update on take up?
Some will claim that the private sector will struggle to achieve its own targets to boost female enterprise if government promises on taxation, parenting help – and access to grants – remain unfavourably slanted against women.
Terry Murden formerly held senior positions at The Sunday Times, The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and The Northern Echo and is now editor of Daily Business