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Baroness Warsi’s speech to the Non-Wovens Network

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It’s great to be here today.

I have a personal link with this event.

I hail from Dewsbury – a Victorian textile town…

Leeds University – to whom you are closely linked – is my former uni…

The family business that I’m privileged to be a part of is a furniture manufacturer …

And, above all, I am a great believer in innovation in industry.

And that’s exactly what I want to talk about today.

As the fastest growing sector of the textile industry, you demonstrate the power of innovation and reinvention.

You show that an industry of the past can have a strong, dynamic future…

…that tradition is not incompatible with innovation.

Today there are many other industries that could take heed from your example.


I have to say, at the weekly diary meetings in my office this opportunity to give a speech to the Nonwovens Network raised a few eyebrows.

A lot of questions were asked about what you do. I was even told it was probably going to be a boring conference.

What people don’t realise is that nonwovens are woven through our lives.

They’re part and parcel of the modern world.

Under the carpet we walk on, on the chairs we sit on, in the face wipes we use, the dusters we clean with.

Indeed, the fabric of society!

Personally I am more familiar with the woven side of the textile industry.

Whether it be the spinning and weaving mills my father came to work in during the 1960s…

…or the materials used in our bed manufacturing business many years later.

But here’s why I believe your industry is such a crucial one.

It shows the importance of tradition and modernisation in manufacturing.


But let’s look for a moment at the story of which you are a part.

Britain’s long history of manufacturing and textiles.

A century ago we were exporting seven billion square yards of cloth a year.

Textiles became synonymous with the north.

One of Britain’s greatest success stories.

But sadly that peak is something of the past.

Textiles now account for just 0.2 per cent of the UK economy.

The sector declined particularly in recent years. 

With 10,000 jobs lost in the textile and clothing industries in one year alone (2006).

And the number of UK textile jobs halving in the previous decade (from 372, 000 to 155,000).

In that period, the whole of manufacturing suffered a blow.

The number of firms had shrunk and the sector had declined the fastest as a share of the economy.

Meanwhile, as we well know, the wider economy shifted to a reliance on finance and debt.


Ladies and gentlemen, this is a sad story of decline.

This government recognises that. It’s why we want to put Britain on the map for what it makes.

And you are part of that.

We want to rebalance our economy to make it sustainable.

We know that to make our country better, we need to start making more things again.

That is the true route to economic recovery.

So we are getting full square behind British manufacturing.

That’s why we’ve cut business taxes, reformed planning, improved skills and rolled out enterprise zones…

Making it easier to start-up businesses and to grow businesses.

But what this government knows is that future trade opportunities lie beyond our immediate neighbours.

A large plank of this government’s foreign policy has been about trade, reaching out to opportunities further afield.

And we’ve had some great success stories. 

For the first time since 1976 we are a net exporter of cars.

We sell vodka to Poland, cheese to France, tacos to Mexico

We even sell canoes to the Eskimos!

So the sign is on the door once more: Britain is wide open for business.

That’s why the Prime Minister says that it isn’t just his job and the Foreign Secretary’s job to bang the drum for trade abroad.

It’s the job of each and every minister in this government and I’m delighted to play my part in that.

Last time I was here in Bradford, I said that the town was uniquely positioned to drive forward the British economy. Its diverse demographic gives it global trade links that others could only dream of.

And this afternoon I’m delighted to be hosting Dr Ishrat Khan, the Governor of Sindh, who is in the country to sign a trade deal worth up to $17 billion.

And I know there are opportunities in this region as well.


All these opportunities are part of a new era of manufacturing.

And you’re at the forefront of this new era.

You are a rapidly growing part of an industry many said was a thing of the past. 

You have achieved that success by bringing together the best aspects of design, of science, of technology and business.

By forever innovating and surviving.

By being as versatile as your products!

I really want others to take your example and be inspired and send out the message:

That Britain is open for business again.

My husband is a manufacturer and so is my father.

I come from the north – the powerhouse of manufacturing

I know from the work I do overseas on behalf of the government that the ‘Made in Britain’ stamp is the most prestigious designer label you can get.

So I wish you the very best of luck with your conference and urge you to keep on banging the drum for British business.

Thank you.

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