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UK textile production can be competitive, report says

Textiles can be manufactured profitably in the UK on a competitive basis against emerging economies, according to a study by the University of Manchester.

This was among a number of points raised at a conference last week, organised by the Clothworkers, Dyers and Weavers livery companies, to discuss how the industry could be revived in the UK and companies attracted to use it as manufacturing base.

Professor Chris Carr from the university launched the findings of a report which examined the factors affecting the establishment of a mill, together with operating costs, compared with those in India, Bangladesh and Turkey.

It looked at a variety of cost parameters, from raw materials to export duties, at each stage of spinning, weaving, knitting and dyeing and finishing and found that a UK facility could operate profitably, although the net margin would be lower than in the other countries. However, the benefits to a UK-based retailer in terms of shorter lead times, flexibility and less writedowns should allow for a marginally higher sales price from the factory, improving the overall margin, said Mr Carr.

Bill Macbeth, managing director of the Textile Centre of Excellence in Huddersfield, said the workforce in UK textiles is ageing and employers are concerned at the availability of relevant skills. Forty textile companies have secured for £2m of government funding to match their own investment in training, confirmed on the day by business secretary Vince Cable, the keynote speaker at the conference.

James Sugden, director of wool company Johnston’s of Elgin and chairman of the conference, said the industry had asked the government to reduce the tax burden on companies investing in building capacity, to increase financial support for trade shows to promote the UK to overseas markets, to reduce red tape in funding and approve tax breaks for companies investing in skills.

“For the country as a whole, a vibrant manufacturing sector is again seen as important for future prosperity,” he added. “However, we cannot rely on the government for a quick fix and it will be down to the industry to ensure that we have the right skills in our factories to continue to meet our customers’ demands.”