An industry-led programme to revive the UK textiles and clothing manufacturing industry has made significant headway in creating new jobs and increasing production, but more needs to be done, former business secretary Sir Vince Cable tells Drapers.
Before I got into politics, I did quite a lot of work on textiles in the 1970s, when it was in danger of becoming extinct and was seen by many to have gone into terminal decline. A few companies were hanging on in there, focused around specialisms and industrial fabrics, but most of the industry did move overseas.
When we launched the industrial strategy in 2011, there was widespread scepticism – the belief was that this was a graveyard industry and the little that we did invest was more of a self-help operation. However, I met with many stakeholders, such as Lord Alliance and Lord Rose, who thought there was potential for shortening the timescales – instead of waiting so long to get products from overseas – and believed in the opportunities around smart technologies.
It is clear that the funding from the Textiles Growth Programme has gone a long way, helping new companies to start up and others to grow.
I started visiting some of the textile research facilities, such as one in Huddersfield, and it was apparent that there was a mini-revival happening.
Some British retailers that had given up on sourcing from the UK have started to return and others – who never had looked at British manufacturing – are giving it a go.
The industry has been helped further by the changes in exchange rates which makes it even more competitive. It is really positive that we are seeing a sustained recovery taking place.
Having spoken to many companies within this space, the one thing holding them back is often skilled people. Attracting those people back into the industry needs organised training schemes, which is something I’d like to see more of through the new apprenticeship levy.
Now I hope the government will continue to support the industry and back the industrial strategy they have set out in words with concrete action.
It is important to note that what has been achieved shows that this is not a subsidy. It is paying for itself and helping create successful companies, which then go on to pay tax.
If the government means what it says, it needs to build on this success story and go forward from here.
Sir Vince Cable is the former coalition secretary of state for business, innovation and skills; a member of parliament for Twickenham and deputy leader and shadow chancellor of the Liberal Democrats.