‘Stark’ figures show Scots women got little Covid business support

Female-led businesses received less then 11 per cent of the £150 million available through two key Scottish grant funds designed to help firms survive the worst of the pandemic, a new analysis has revealed.

Figures released today by Women’s Enterprise Scotland (WES) and company data specialist mnAI highlight the “stark” gender disparities in the distribution of money drawn from the £30m Creative, Tourism & Hospitality Enterprises Hardship Fund (CTHEFH) and the £120m Pivotal Enterprise Resilience Fund (PERF). Both were administered through Scotland’s Enterprise Agencies, with Creative Scotland and VisitScotland providing support in the case of the CTHEFH.

Across both funds, businesses headed by women made up 13.3% of all successful applicants. They received even less of the total value of money disbursed – just 10.6% of the funding deployed.

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The data has been released as WES chief executive Caroline Currie prepares to give evidence today to the Scottish Parliament Economy and Fair Work Committee. Access to finance is one of five core themes in the Women in Enterprise action plan co-developed by WES and the Scottish Government in 2014, and subsequently updated in 2017.

“This data provides us with a stark insight on the grant funding received by women-led companies during the pandemic,” Ms Currie said. “Even when grant support is made available to businesses, structural inequalities prevail and limit women’s access to crucial funding.

“Urgent, targeted action is required to ensure women’s businesses in Scotland can access the financial resources they need to recover, grow and make their rightful contribution to the Scottish economy.”

Justine Mitchell, owner of the Chamomile Sanctuary day spa in Edinburgh, was among those who failed to qualify for PERF support after turnover crashed to “effectively zero” in the wake of the first lockdown. Employing 14 people with five treatment rooms, a nail room and changing room, she launched Chamomile at Home in June of last year in a bid to generate much-needed revenue to supplement retail grants based on the rateable value of her business property.

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Chamomile at Home – including facial products and a video from a therapist on how to use them – was the winner of Best Pivot Product at last year’s WeDo Covid-19 business awards for Scottish SMEs. Facials, which made up 55% of the firm’s pre-Covid revenues, were not allowed to resume in Scotland until May of this year, nine months after getting the go-ahead in England.

Ms Mitchell highlights these and other anomalies in the business support made available to the beauty industry, where women dominate the ranks of both owners and staff.

“I thought this was the perfect grant for us, I believed we fell perfectly within the criteria,” she said of the PERF fund. “From my perspective as a day spa owner, I feel that beauty has been treated as a second-class citizen in Scotland.”

She added: “There is a great disparity when it comes to funding for women-owned businesses.”

Research in 2018 from WES found that women-owned companies contribute £8.8 billion in gross value add to the Scottish economy each year, creating more than 230,000 jobs. Ms Currie said there is a continuing need to measure such data on a gender-disaggregated basis.

“Now is the time to implement a Women’s Business Centre Model, provide the expert business support women business owners need and train more advisers in the provision of gender-aware business support,” she said.

“Gender diversity powers radical, step-change innovation and Scotland needs women’s business to boost our productivity. We are grateful to mnAI for their assistance with this analysis and look forward to working together with them in the future to provide data and insight required to achieve transformational economic growth.

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992