As Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss has shown herself unafraid to say what she thinks. Whether it’s the need to defend Conservative values, rallying against Michael Gove’s wood-burning stove ban or poking fun at her current party’s Brexit secretary related woes.
On Monday night, Truss gave a speech to female entrepreneurs and founders in 11 Downing Street. In it, Truss spoke in defence of free markets, the need for a party to appeal to Generation Z and pointed out that the majority of venture capital money in the UK was given to all-male teams and compared that to the idea of a Bullingdon Club infused Conservative government – something that she said belongs in the past:
‘I am the number one believer in free markets. I think free markets are incredibly important – they drive prosperity.
But you can only have a free market if everybody has the opportunity to participate in it, if everybody has the opportunity to set up their own business and succeed. And the fact is that in finance, that is not happening. We see lots of brilliant ideas and lots of brilliant people who are effectively being blocked from utilising their talents as a whole.
And I’m sure everybody who has read the report will have been shocked by some of the figures. 90% of all of the money that is coming out of venture capital is going in to all-male teams, not even mixed teams. That’s a bit like the Conservative Party being entirely run by the Bullingdon Club… never happened. Or like the pop music industry being 90 per cent boybands – and never having Little Mix or the Spice Girls. That is what we’re missing out on.
And here today we have people who are setting up their own brilliant businesses. They are the disruptors, they are the people who are challenging the status quo. They’re bringing new ideas to the market.
Women are the ultimate new entrants – we have moved in to places that have previously been dominated by men. We’ve had to make our voices heard, we’ve had to do things differently to get through and to get our message through.
And that now needs to happen in the arena of finance. I don’t think there’s ever been a more important time for that than now in 2019.
We face a huge challenge as a country this year as we leave the European Union, we need to make sure our economy is as competitive as it can possibly be. We need to use every ounce of talent we have in this country.
It’s completely wrong that 50pc of the population are not being fully utilised, they’re not having their talents used, and they’re not contributing as they could do to our fantastic economic success story. If women set up businesses at the same rate as men set up businesses, we’d have 1.2 million more businesses in this country. That would make a dramatic difference to our levels of growth, but also make a huge difference to those individual women.
What does running your own business mean? It means financial independence. It means the ability to control your own life. It means the ability to shape your own future and take your own decisions. To quote Little Mix: “I put my own rock on my hand.” They understand what it means to be somebody in power, to be able to take those financial decisions.
So what does that mean for us? Well first of all, I encourage women to put themselves forward. It’s never easy – I’ve worked in the oil industry and I’ve worked in politics, and often you get told “play the game, don’t rock the boat, behave yourself, and just keep quiet”, and that’s what people do.
Girls get told that at school. That is a fact – we are brought up to be compliant. To behave yourself. Well I say no to that. I think we need to be disruptive, and to face the fact that as a smaller share, whether it’s in business or politics, we need to make our voices louder.
And we need to speak out. We need to go to meetings that we’re not invited to. We need to take opportunities that we’re not necessarily offered, and we need to put ourselves forward.
I’m a great champion of girls doing maths, because that is a subject that traditionally, girls were thought of as not being as good at. That is simply not true. And the area of finance and money is the final frontier. Women are often told that money is something that is slightly dirty, slightly vulgar. That to talk about making money or making a profit is somehow not socially responsible.
That couldn’t be more untrue. It’s incredibly socially responsible to set up a business, to serve customers, to contribute to your economy, to contribute to your community. That is incredibly responsible.
So I’ve got a message for the venture capital companies in this room. I know many of you are working very hard to increase your pipeline of women-led businesses and do more. And I appreciate that. But we need more effort on that direction. Because too often, people tend to rely on their existing networks whether it’s a golf club in the Home Counties, or whether it’s a roundabout near Shoreditch.
The fact is, there are brilliant businesses going on around this country. We saw a 5% increase in the number of businesses registered in the last year. And a lot of these increases are in places like Leeds, places like Manchester, places like Bristol. We need capital, venture capital in particular, to reach out beyond the usual suspects.
Go and get those people, go and talent spot those fantastic entrepreneurs. If we look at the younger generation, we’ve seen an 85% rise in the number of 18-24 year olds setting up a business in the last 3 years alone. These Gen Z-ers are our future. They’re much more business-minded than previous generations, they’re much more on it. But they need that support, they need the capital to make their ideas succeed.
There are people in this room who have got deep pockets. We do have this group of female freedom fighters who want to change the future of Britain, who want to change their own futures, who can help contribute to the economy. But what it’s going to take, is people in this room and beyond, putting your hands in your pockets and getting your money out to support those businesses and those ideas. That is what is really important.
We’ve got a big opportunity to change things. I really congratulate the British Business Bank on their report today. You have shown to us what we all knew to be true, that we’ve got a massive problem in this area. I hope that this really sees us make change. I hope it sees more women come forward, but also I hope it sees the industry change their culture and their approach and go out looking for that talent that is going to help change Britain.’
Should someone tell Cameron?