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Textile Manufacturing

Volume 589: debated on Tuesday 2 December 2014

It is very good to be here before you today, Mr Streeter. I am not his personal assistant, but I feel I should offer the apologies of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), who most people know would want to be here today. Unfortunately, he cannot be here. He sent his apologies to me, which I felt I should pass on.

Allegedly, Mark Twain once said something along the lines of rumours of his death being greatly exaggerated. Based on my experiences over a long period of time—it has certainly been my experience as an MP for the past four years—I can strongly confirm that rumours of the textile industry’s demise are greatly exaggerated. Not only that, but the industry is alive and thriving. Coming from Bradford, I have seen the high quality of the manufacturing work taking place across the whole of the West Riding.

That might seem an odd point to begin on, but it is important for me to say it, because even many of those living in Bradford, where so many good things are going on, have a false belief that textile manufacturing in Bradford and the West Riding is a thing of the past. It is true that 11,000-odd workers no longer pour out of Manningham mill, also known as Lister’s mill, or Salts mill. The huge volume of production that once made Bradford the wool capital of the world might have gone, but scouring, carding, dyeing, spinning, weaving and finishing still take place to the highest standards. From Huddersfield to Keighley and across to Pudsey and Shipley, companies are not only still producing yarn and cloth, but doing so with great success. Such firms as Abraham Moon—if one is mentioned, Hainsworth and Laxtons and everyone else has to be mentioned—are producing for Dolce & Gabbana, Paul Smith and Burberry and doing exceptionally well in growth markets across the world, in Japan, Europe and America.

It is of course not just about wool, much as I would love to spend all day talking about it. I forgot to put my Campaign for Wool badge on, but it is in my bag. Reshoring or onshoring is beginning to happen on a large scale, as “Made in Britain” once more becomes a sign of real value and a badge of quality. That is good news. UK retailers such as John Lewis and Marks & Spencer with its “Best of British” range have been falling over each other to announce plans to bring back production on an ever increasing scale. Volume manufacturing will never return to its previous scale—the cut, the make and the trim will always be cheaper in the far east or Turkey—but there does seem to be a successful future at the premium end of production, where short lead times reduce the risks of markdowns for retailers. According to the manufacturing advisory service, one in six UK manufacturers have brought back some production from overseas in the last 12 months, and that process continues apace.

A further consideration is the ethical and sustainable dimension of much overseas production. We all know about the Dhaka factory collapse, which should have sent a sharp reminder to many UK retailers about the full cost—not just the financial cost—of some overseas sources of production.

I commend the hon. Gentleman on bringing this debate to the House today. He and I have both purchased the Yorkshire suit. Does he agree that if anyone wants to support textile manufacturing in Yorkshire, one of the best things they can do is buy a Yorkshire suit, the brainchild of Mr Yorkshire himself, Keith Madeley? It uses material from Yorkshire, is manufactured in Yorkshire and is of the highest possible quality.

I hope that that intervention results in a significant discount for the hon. Gentleman on the cloth. I should find out what he paid. The fabric is available in lengths of cloth for women, if they should want to make up a suit. We are all selling here tonight.

It is all good news for the industry, but that creates significant challenges, particularly in the availability of skilled labour. A high proportion of the sector’s skilled work force is nearing retirement age. I have been to Haworth Scouring, which deals with 100 tonnes of tops a week—large-scale work is still going on. A gentleman was working in the sorting area and, were the business to lose him, it would lose one of the only sources of that skill across the whole area. That is how near we are to losing precious skills. On that same visit, it was good to see a young apprentice learning the trade from scratch and helping to provide the much needed next generation of skilled people who are required for the industry’s continued success.

I too congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. He mentioned Abraham Moon, which is in my constituency. It has just spent £3 million on expansion, but it needs a skilled work force to meet demand. Does he agree that we need to put greater emphasis on apprenticeships, so that such mills can succeed?

Absolutely. With another hat on, as a member of the Education Committee, we are exercised by the problems of careers advice and ensuring that there are real careers for people, not only in textile manufacturing, but in manufacturing and in business. We need to ensure that fantastic jobs are available. Many parents will not even know that they exist, and one important part of the debate is making more people aware of them.

I wish I was able to say that in my area we have had a massive increase in the number of jobs available, but the reverse is true; we have lost 15 or 16 factories over a number of years. Even now, however, we still have people with the skills to be involved in the factories and to take the opportunities. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that with the opportunities available in Yorkshire—in Bradford and elsewhere—direct contacts should be made with the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in Northern Ireland to ensure that job transfers can take place and that those skills are retained?

Absolutely. One of the big difficulties that the industry faces is that it is not pharmaceuticals, the automotive industry or aerospace, where big companies can provide supply chains in local areas, which feed the skills back through to the big companies. In textiles, it is a lot of small businesses. Even the big mills exist without long supply chains, which would provide skilled jobs that offer that continuity. It is a serious issue, but do not despair. Many of the things I am saying on the potential for reshoring and bringing back production from abroad apply to other constituencies.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate and on his work with the all-party group on textile manufacturing. As he knows, there are 62 textile firms in Huddersfield, employing thousands of people. We are proud that the green jacket worn at Augusta by the winner of the Masters golf tournament is made in Huddersfield. Soft furnishings in the White House are made in Huddersfield. The crimson upholstery on Boris’s new Routemaster buses is made in Huddersfield. Talking about skills, the company that produced that fabric, Camira Fabrics, is working with the Entice Project to employ new apprentices. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is the way to get the new skilled work force moving up? Will he join me in congratulating—I am proud of this—the 4,200 new apprentices in my constituency since 2010?

This is all excellent news, but how many people really know about it? It is a good news story of which more and more people need to be made aware. There are particular implications for energising parents to go out and find something other than the traditional route for their children and to discover the other options that are available. It has the potential to inspire young people into a manufacturing career.

As John Miln of the highly successful UK Fashion & Textile Association said:

“Volume manufacturing may never come back but there is significant interest in what we do make and whether we are able to grow it”.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) referred to growing it everywhere. That is the big challenge we face. In addition to all that I have said about traditional textile manufacturing, the global technical textiles industry is growing at four times the rate of home and apparel textiles and now includes medical textiles, geotextiles, agrotextiles, protective clothing, textiles for the automotive and aerospace industries, construction textiles and many others.

Returning to John Miln’s comment, the big questions are how we get the sector to grow and what future it has. All that I have said so far is really good news and many miles away from the era of closure after closure, but at this time of great opportunity what strategic support are the Government giving to textile manufacturing? Back in 1998, after representations from clothing trade associations and unions, John Battle, a Minister at the then Department of Trade and Industry, encouraged the formation of the textile and clothing strategy group to consider in detail the issues and challenges facing the sector. It was recognised that the industry made a major contribution to the UK economy and that a strategic approach was necessary if it was to improve its competitive position. A report called “A National Strategy for the UK Textile and Clothing Industry” was produced and, as its name suggests, it provided the basis for a collaborative plan for the future development of the industry.

The purpose of today’s debate is to ask the Minister whether a similar plan exists today. I am aware of many worthwhile initiatives, and he may refer to the textile growth programme, about which I certainly know far more than I did an hour ago, after speaking to the project director, Lorna Fitzsimons. She told me about some of the fantastic investments that are being made through the programme, but I am interested in finding out whether there is a national strategic plan that underpins such initiatives and where the sector fits in with the Government’s overall industrial strategy.

I concur with what my hon. Friend says and congratulate him on securing the debate. I agree that the sector needs a strategic vision, but will he reaffirm his welcoming of the Government’s textile growth programme? It has so far engaged with 68 companies in Lancashire, eight of which are based in Pendle and two of which have benefited from £200,000 in grants and are now on target to create 104 jobs. I agree with what he says about the strategic vision, but the textile growth programme is delivering for many companies across the north of England.

Absolutely. I hope to meet the programme’s project director next Tuesday in my constituency, but I already know the extent of the programme’s success from previous conversations.

However, a programme or initiative in itself does not amount to a national strategy, which is the point that I am trying to make today. Textile manufacturing is not a priority sector. There is no longer a textile team within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The manufacturing advisory service and UK Trade & Investment are working together as part of the “Reshore UK” initiative, which is considering how to bring production back to this country, but the initiative is not specifically for the textile industry. Again, where does that fit in with the overall strategy? I am concerned because the industry is fragmented, which has been a weakness over the years.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Does he agree that we need support for the textile industry’s supply chain? Burnley is home to a company called, which is one of the biggest online fashion retailers in the country and perhaps Europe. Its problem is that it buys 70% of its products in the UK and yet the supply chain is not supported by the Government in any way. The aerospace and automotive supply chains receive Government support. Does my hon. Friend agree that to help the textile supply chain would create hundreds of jobs and stop a lot of this country’s imports?

That is exactly the point. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that he does as the apprenticeship tsar. As has already been indicated, apprenticeships have developed fantastically over the past few years, but they need continuous pushing so that parents, children and young people see them as a viable alternative to the traditional academic route—although apprenticeships do of course contain academic provision.

I am concerned by the fragmented nature of the industry. I worry that it may be overlooked as other manufacturing sectors such as aerospace, pharmaceuticals and the auto industry dominate Government thinking. If that were the case, it would be a shame and it would be wrong. It would be good to hear today that the value of clothing and textile manufacturing in its widest forms—I mentioned technical textiles—is understood by the Minister. Beyond that, it would be good to know that the sector features in the Government’s long-term plans for the growth and development of the UK’s manufacturing base.

May I conclude by referring to the new all-party parliamentary group textile manufacturing that was formed last year? We already have the successful all-party fashions and textile group, and the aim is not to duplicate its work but to provide a clearer focus and concentration on UK textile manufacturing. It is still early days for the new group, but we are looking at our work programme, in which the textile growth programme will certainly feature. We will report back on that in the new year when the all-party fashions and textile group’s major report is finished. I hope the Minister will take an interest in and see the importance of the new all-party group and that he may find the time to visit us to discuss Government support for textile manufacturing in this country.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Bradford East (Mr Ward) not only for securing this important debate, but for his chairing of the all-party group or textile manufacturing, which he worked so hard to set up as a champion for the sector. I also pay tribute to other hon. Members and hon. Friends for their contributions.

The manufacturing of textiles at scale has a long and proud history in the UK that goes right through the industrial revolution and the industrial development of Lancashire, Yorkshire, the east midlands and elsewhere. Today, it plays a leading role even in my constituency in Suffolk, where Gurteen, a company set up in the 1700s and still run by the same family, continues to thrive making high-quality clothing mostly from wool. I pay tribute to the firm and its work in the industry. Over time, much of the UK’s production moved overseas, and the numbers involved in manufacturing fell. It is true that an impact was felt from the switch to lower-cost countries. Nevertheless, in 2013 the textile manufacturing industry contributed £2.4 billion gross value added in the UK, and 60,000 jobs.

The hon. Member for Bradford East asked what our strategy was. We are clear that the textiles growth programme, which several hon. Members mentioned, is a crucial part of the overall strategy. He asked what our goal was. Our goal is to support the textiles industry to grow and expand here in the UK and, in particular, to support companies that are thriving through supplying high-end, niche products. He mentioned especially the technical textiles sector, which is growing fast internationally and in which the UK is at the cutting edge of research. We can benefit from that so that we are also at the cutting edge of some of the production.

On the specific question of an overall strategy, of course the textiles growth programme is an important part of it. We have been clear—I have been very clear—that where an industrial strategy is required and demanded for a sector, we should work with the sector to develop one. If that means that we need to expand what is already available, I look forward to working with hon. Members to achieve that.

The textiles growth fund has invested millions to support the development of textiles capability and to capitalise on the reshoring mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. Reshore UK, which is our overall scheme through UKTI to support the reshoring of jobs back into the UK, is gathering pace. It provides support for companies that are reshoring jobs in all sectors. That is best done on a cross-economy basis, because many companies that sent production overseas now want to bring it back, often so that they can have shorter supply chains, with shorter distances, and maintain a tighter grip on quality than is possible when exporting jobs. They face many of the same issues in lots of sectors, whether textiles, high-value manufacturing or other areas.

The overall target of the textiles growth fund is to create or safeguard a further 1,000 jobs and to leverage in private sector investment on a ratio of 3:1. By the end of October more than 60 grant applications had been funded, with total project value in excess of £25 million. The projects are expected to fulfil the jobs goal and to create at least 70 apprenticeships, demonstrating the money behind the Government’s clear objective of supporting UK textiles manufacturing, in particular high-quality manufacturing.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the skills shortage, which is an important issue. In Bradford, including his constituency, unemployment has fallen by 27% over the past year, according to the claimant count; in Huddersfield, it is down by 29%. Those are good figures, but with a tightening labour market, we are getting increased reports of skills shortages. The broader reforms to strengthen and improve education in the UK are an important part of the answer, but not an immediate one, because it takes time for children who are benefiting from an improved education to come through, so the importance of on-the-job training and apprenticeships cannot be overestimated.

On skills, however, we are improving our support to ensure that it is more focused on what employers need. Employer-led trailblazers are paving the way by writing new standards for apprenticeships, including in the textiles industry where standards are being developed in fashion and design to ensure that we capture the high-end market, although not in the manufacturing of textiles, which might be an area that we wish to address. As with industrial strategy as a whole, the invitation is open to sectors to approach and work in partnership with the Government to develop the apprenticeship standards required.

As I asked in my intervention on the hon. Member for Bradford East (Mr Ward), is the Minister aware of the skills that we have available in Northern Ireland since the closure of many factories? Will he agree to contact the responsible Minister in Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster, the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, to see whether some of those skills could be transferred from Northern Ireland to that area where there are vacancies at the moment?

Yes, I work regularly with the Northern Ireland Executive, including Arlene Foster, on such issues. We should take up the question of the transfer of skills. Northern Ireland’s apprenticeship reforms are similar to our own, and we share the thinking about the need to ensure that the skills taught are the ones that companies need. The same direction of travel is being taken in Northern Ireland, so I will take that point away with me.

The employer ownership pilots are about putting funding for skills training directly in the hands of employers. The Huddersfield and District Textile Training Company has a multimillion-pound project that includes a textile centre of excellence to help to improve skills and, again, to ensure that we in the UK are adding to high-value manufacturing in textiles and in other areas, because we recognise that that is where we can add value and create the highly paid jobs that we want to see.

In addition, through the local response fund, two textiles projects have been approved in Manchester. For example, the north-west’s NWTextnet was awarded £75,000 for dynamic portfolio management to achieve integration of new product development with reshoring manufacturing capacity. Again, that is trying to drive up the skills in textiles production into the high-end, high-spec skills, which is where we see the UK market.

We therefore have a clear strategy. If further work needs to be done, I am up for that, and the Government are clear that we want to work with the sector to ensure that we get the benefits at the high end, where the UK can add the most value. We need to deliver on the skills and the supply chains; we need to put the support in place where it is appropriate to spend taxpayers’ money, which is usually best defined as where the companies are themselves willing to participate side by side with us, so that we can support the textiles industry, much as we are doing in many other industrial sectors. We need to ensure, as the hon. Member for Bradford East said, that “Made in Britain” is a highly esteemed badge of high quality. We need to build the small and medium-sized businesses in the textiles sector so that we can bring them together.

It is no surprise that of the brands that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, where UK textiles in fashion play an important part, he included the top-end brands that are among the most demanded and most expensive, because that is where the UK can add value, reshore jobs and ensure that such jobs are high quality. If we can turn that from a summary of what is happening on the ground into a strategy for how to make textiles strong in the UK—how to make an optimistic future—in Bradford, Huddersfield and throughout Yorkshire, Lancashire and the east midlands—the traditional heartlands of the UK textiles industry—and indeed in Northern Ireland, we will take an historic and proud industry and ensure that it continues to generate jobs and prosperity in the UK for many years to come.