Department of Trade and Industry

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

The UK Industry's Position

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

The World Textile Congress Conference, Bolton.

Wednesday, July 04, 2001

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I am delighted to be here this morning to take part in this most important meeting.

Over the last 10 years, British textiles have led the way in diversifying away from traditional to Technical Textiles, a growth area which has added value to most manufacturing sectors. The North West is recognised as a world leader in technical textiles, and the region has demonstrated very effectively how co-operation between business, academic institutions and Government can work for the benefit of the industry as a whole. Bringing science and manufacturing together in this way has been a major contributory factor in building the present dominance in the development of innovative fibres and products for use in all sectors. The number of worldwide companies represented here today demonstrates this.


The world congress being held here today and tomorrow is concerned with this important and growing sector and it is most appropriate that it has been arranged by organisations based in the North West of England and that it is also being held here. The recent cluster analysis undertaken by the North West Development Agency revealed the NW to be the centre of the UK's strength in technical textiles.

As we shall learn later today from David Rigby, the author of the Cluster Analysis, the North West of England also has the highest concentration of technical textile activity in the world. Furthermore, technical textiles is one of the five growth sectors in the textiles and clothing industries - the others being interior textiles, fabric after-care, sportswear and protective clothing. Expansion is predicted to continue at around 5% a year for the next 5 years at least. Innovation is critical to the success of the industry, and in the UK we have plenty of success stories which show that innovation can enable companies to be successful and grow even in the face of competition from low-wage companies. Let me give you two examples.

John Heathcoat & Sons (based in Devon), starting making lace in 1808, diversified into cotton net in 1925 and now its automotive drive belts can be found in 60% of the world's cars.

And Andrews Textile Industries, based in Bury, started making laundry blankets in the last century but is now a world-leader in the production of filtration fabrics made from both traditional and hi-technical textiles/high performance materials such as aramid. This company has also received DTI support to develop, in partnership with Bolton Institute, composite impact-resistant materials based on their non woven technology in order to seek new markets in the automotive industries.

The EU market for technical textiles is about 21% of all textiles and growing; those in Japan and the USA are 38% and 2% respectively of all textiles. The markets for technical textiles are traditional industrial fabrics (43%), transportation, including automotive uses (23%), civil engineering textiles (10%), medical textiles (10%) and protective apparel (2%). The North West's present position is that of a world leader. It is the intention of the government, working through its various agencies and regional and sectoral business support organisations, that this remains the case.

In many instances, the companies involved are not primary textile companies but require the presence and use of textiles in their products. A very good example of this is the aerospace industry, typified in the North West region by BAE Systems, which produces aircraft and advanced aerospace systems whose performance depends on textile-related components ... the replacement of metals by carbon, aramid and glass-fibre reinforced composites is dependent on the properties and availability of the textile components. These themselves have been designed and highly engineered to suit the needs of the user, who in this case has to meet the very stringent demands of civil aviation safety and defence capability.

A report to DTI in March 1995 attempted to identify this generic sector and its component parts for the first time, although many of the companies in the sector had been in business for over 100 years. It is interesting that, as the David Rigby Cluster Analysis showed, the NW excellence in technical textiles is based on its historic strength in nonwoven textiles, an area which is the fastest growing textile fabrication technology worldwide at this time.

Because innovation is so important, the Government through the Innovation Budget,is giving support for projects led by companies or HEIs. Bolton Institute has received 380,000 in support of 4 R&D projects - one completed and three current - in which at least 15 companies were or are involved. And UMIST has received 540,000 in support of three current R&D projects, with around 12 collaborators all told. Bolton Institute have two further projects and UMIST have three further proposals for the DTI to consider funding.

We have also assisted in the creation of the TechniTex Faraday Partnership which involves three UK Higher Education Institutions - UMIST, the University of Leeds and Heriot-Watt University, together with the NW-based British Textiles Technology Group (formerly the Shirley Institute). The TechniTex FP will benefit from 1.2m in Innovation Budget support from the DTI and a further 1m from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council in the coming years as it develops core research and applications research proposals. Core research will be undertaken by the four hub partners together, and applications research will feature individual hub partners plus UK TT companies and other HEIs from outside the Faraday Partnership.

No industry can afford to ignore the importance of the knowledge-driven economy, least of all the textiles industry. As Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State in the DTI made clear in her recent speech

"too many people still seem to believe that only the 'new economy' - dot.coms, internet based companies and all that - has a future; and that the 'old economy' - manufacturing industries - are doomed to decline and death.

"That is profoundly wrong.The reality is that new technologies are transforming every product and service, every part of the production process and every sector of the economy. They are transforming agriculture - a pre-industrial sector - as well as manufacturing industry itself."

My Department has initiated a programme of 10 e-commerce impact assessments for the textiles and clothing sector - including a study of the technical textiles sector which will be carried out later this year.

But, there is no room for complacency: The Multi-Fibre Arrangement comes to an end in 2002 and there are already signs that countries on the Pacific Rim are awakening to the possibilities of working with HEIs to develop new products. Although we in the UK tend to think that technical textiles are the preserve of sophisticated developed countries, companies from central/eastern Europe and the developing world are already beginning to develop technical textiles activity, as was seen at the Techtextil trade fair in Frankfurt in April, where in addition to the UK, US, French, and German industry there were exhibitors from Belarus, Egypt, Hungary, India, Iran, Pakistan, Poland, Slovakia, Taiwan and Turkey. UK companies in technical textiles have to constantly innovate so that they are a moving target for low wage countries.


Another source of expertise for the sector is Biowise. BIO-WISE, a 13m Government programme, is a comprehensive source of expert advice, provided free of charge, on the use of industrial biotechnology in the UK. The textiles sector is one of the BIO-WISE Programme's key sectors, for which there is a dedicated portfolio manager. The Programme offers free access to biotechnology expertise for textiles companies, including the possibility of site visits. There is also a help-line with a panel of industrial biotechnology specialists who can spend up to four hours free of charge working on a query. There is access to information, support and advice on biotechnology suppliers both locally and nationally.

Biotechnology and textiles

Biotechnology has a crucial part to play in helping companies make the most of the future potential for new business in textiles industry by:

  • allowing them to find new natural sources of textile fibres and materials;
  • helping them manufacture novel biodegradable synthetic materials;
  • improving fibre production; and
  • turning fibres into products in significantly fewer process steps, through the use of innovative nonwoven technologies.

There is also a more immediate advantage in terms of environmental applications - for example demonstration projects in effluent treatment.


I would now like to say a few words about technical textiles in the North West.

The NW Development Agency, in identifying its major wealth-creating sectors, has made textiles one of its 14 priority industries. In support of this, and for the first time in over 200 years, the region is now home to an established textiles network, NWTexNet, which links together all textile interests across the region including industry itself, trade associations, the unions, the higher educational establishments, government agencies and local authorities. NWTexNet is industrially chaired by Anil Ruia (from Wrengate Ltd) and hosted by Bolton Institute and these two organisations are joint organisers of this conference.

Among NWTexNet's first major outcomes has been directing on behalf of North West Development Agency the production of the David Rigby Cluster Analysis which identified technical textiles as the key textiles industry in the NW. The Cluster analysis report identified over 600 companies working in this area. Some will be producers of the technical textiles themselves - which often entails treating or converting a traditional textile, conferring on it performance properties such as flame and fire retardancy through the processes it undergoes in conversion - and some will be those who incorporate technical textiles into components for end-products or the actual end-products themselves. The sector is fragmented and companies tend to consider themselves to be a part of the end-user industries they supply rather than a TT sector per se. Although there is not a UK TT trade association as such, networking is improving in that Northern Ireland and the East Midlands have each established a TT forum, and the North West is home to the North West Textiles Network and the Nonwovens Network. And the TechniTex Faraday Partnership will also help provide some cohesion in a diverse sector.

A second major outcome has been the recent setting up of the Technical Textiles Sub-sector Group, chaired by Roger Tattersall of Lantor (UK), one of the sponsors of this event. Coupled with the support from the North West Development Agency and the Government Office for the North-West in Manchester, the sector is in an ideal position to lead the way as a global force.

This conference is part of this strategy and during today and tomorrow you will hear papers presented by world-leading experts in the many and varied sectors of this most interesting and challenging sector.

Summing up

In the Knowledge Economy the technical and performance textile sector is an excellent example of an industry which by innovation has shown how one can be successful and grow in spite of fierce competition from low wage companies. In this country we have an excellent science and technology base located in places such as the Bolton Institute. We must make certain that we take full advantage of this national asset, and I welcome this conference and the contribution it will make to taking forward this expanding and promising sector of the UK economy.

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