The West Midlands has one of the fastest growth rates for businesses owned by women in the UK.

According to a study by Barclays, 3,300 businesses were started by women in the first six months of 2006, compared to 2,700 in the same period last year – up 18 per cent.

This growth was only beaten by Yorkshire, which saw growth in female start-ups of 23 per cent.

The figure also narrowed the gap between the genders, with the growth rate of West Midland businesses started by men running at 20 per cent – up from 10,300 in the first half of 2005 to 12,800 in 2006.

The overall start-up growth rate for the region was 17 per cent, with 18,000 firms created in the first half of 2006, compared to the same period last year. The average for England and Wales was ten per cent.

Sally Arkley, managing director of the Coventry-based Women's Business Development Agency, said the figures were good news, but the region could not rest on its laurels.

"The report is a real testament to the economic power of women when they are given the conditions in which to demonstrate it," she said.

"There has been a significant change in regional understanding of this issue, particularly the level in encouraging female enterprise and I am sure that that has contributed.

"But the region still has to engage more women from ethnic minorities and also encourage women in high-growth enterprises.

"We still have the idea in the West Midlands that men grow companies and women grow their own jobs."

According to Barclays 38,100 businesses were started by women in the first six months of 2006 – up nine per cent on the same period last year.

In the East Midlands, London and Yorkshire, the growth in start ups by women overtook those of men. In the East Midlands the growth for men was eight per cent compared to 11 per cent for women; Yorkshire 16 per cent for men and 23 per cent for women and finally London ten per cent for men compared to 16 per cent for women.

John Davis, marketing director for Barclays Local Business, said: "Start-ups remain buoyant this year and it’s clear that in many areas women are taking the lead and demonstrating how much they can contribute towards the business sector and the UK economy as a whole.

"Business start ups such as property services, which include interior design and property development, offer increasing flexibility and are proving very popular with women who are often juggling careers and family commitments.

"Also in the 21st century there are a lot fewer barriers to entry for women and they are taking advantage. I am sure in a few years time, that in some areas of the market, more businesses will be started by women than men."

But in absolute numbers, London led the way with 44,000 business start-ups. Outside London, the top regions for attracting new business start-ups were the south-east with 32,000 and north-west with 26,000.