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Searching for government support

Richard Kottler

Drapers’ SOS (Save Our Skills) campaign, promoting British-made goods and the preservation and growth of our manufacturing skills, completely resonates with the footwear sector.

Drapers’ SOS (Save Our Skills) campaign, promoting British-made goods and the preservation and growth of our manufacturing skills, completely resonates with the footwear sector.

It was reflected at the British Footwear Association (BFA) stand at trade show Moda in Birmingham last month, which showcased four small, specialist UK footwear producers. Not only was there interest in their products from high-profile brands, retail groups and independents, but they all did business.

This resurgence in interest is also manifest in the relaunched BFA Foundation Course in Footwear, which to date has 29 trainees from nine companies booked on the first modules. Unsurprisingly, some of the most popular parts of the course include visits to UK factories, endorsing the fact that raising skills levels goes hand-in-glove with encouraging local manufacturing. But what is the Government doing to assist this renaissance?

Following approaches by factories looking to expand, the BFA approached government-sponsored agencies to assess the level of financial and other support available.

It took time and research to find the right people to talk to; imagine our surprise at being referred to one of the big accountancy firms to whom this work has been outsourced. In turn, the inexperienced accountant given this role had further outsourced the work to a manufacturing consultant, who knew a lot about engineering but nothing about fashion.

Following discussions - bearing in mind this was just before the spending review in October - it became apparent there was very little money available under any guise, whether it be training, government-led matched funding or research grants, and that there was little enthusiasm to help develop small but viable manufacturers.

We were given 12 leaflets and sent on our way; no doubt fees were disbursed to both the accountant and irrelevant consultant.

If footwear production is to thrive in Britain, there has to be a real consensus between industry and Government on how this can be achieved. It begs the question as to whether there is a real commitment by the powers that be to revitalise manufacturing in the UK.

Richard Kottler is chief executive of the British Footwear Association

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