Apparel Sourcing Intelligence - Worldwide

Some British media announce non-existent Government support for new textile factories

Britain’s newspapers have announced UK government backing for a non-existent plan the government has explicitly refused to support. The bizarre inventions detracted from a conference of Britain’s textile makers which revealed real progress in their profitability.

A London conference, called New Dawn, of Britain’s spinners and weavers on November 2 was described by the Financial Times as a forum for "an industry-led scheme to resurrect the UK textile industry by creating up to 200,000 jobs in the next five years, in what could turn out to be a prime example of manufacturing resourcing". Other media described the conference even more extravagantly, with the Manchester Evening News (originally founded in the mid-19th century as almost the house magazine of the cotton spinning and weaving industry) claiming the country’s Business secretary, Vince Cable, announced at the conference "that he wanted to see a string of new clothing plants opened in Britain."

Both descriptions are wholly fictitious.

80% of the conference was a low-key, if inspiring, presentation of recent success stories achieved by medium sized spinners and weavers – none connected with the volume garment market. This conference was started off by Mr Cable with a routine description of modest government plans, general encouragement for the industry (still possibly the most positive programme of support from a British government in 30 years), in which he declined to back anything more ambitious. The other 20% of the conference consisted of two presentations from academics presenting an economic case for a bigger garment-making industry in Britain. Neither presentation provided enough information to analyse properly, though our blog reviews the numbers presented and the presenters’ credentials – concluding the data shown does not support the conclusions claimed.

These presentations resulted from a programme supported by a philanthropist – former majority shareholder in Coats Viyella, David Alliance – to see the establishment of a mainstream garment and textile making industry in Britain: Alliance has subsequently been joined by ex- Marks & Spencer CEO Stuart Rose. The organisers of the conference shied away from involvement in Alliance’s campaign , which has now appointed as Chief Executive a former MP, political activist and PR executive, Lorna Fitzsimmons. Though Ms Fitzsimmons studied textile design at university, she has no experience in any commercial management, or in the textile or garment industry. The specific objectives of the Alliance programme are unclear: it is very clear it wants to see a substantially bigger textile and garment making industry in Britain, but is publicly vague about whether it expects substantial investment funds, or merely to act as an advocate, encouraging greater awareness of the case for British apparel and textile manufacture.

In either case, Cable had been clear two weeks before the conference about the UK government’s stance: In a public interview Cable said of Alliance and Rose : ‘They have formed the view that there is scope for bringing back an industry that disappeared in the bonfire of the Eighties. ‘This is already happening but people like Lord Alliance have a more ambitious agenda, looking at the whole chain, finishing and dyeing – all those things we once did on a large scale in places like Lancashire.

‘We are not going to subsidise this. It is down to the industry. But there are things the Government can do in terms of training, apprenticeships and co-investing through regional growth funds. We have ways of helping.’