Government ‘Ignores’ UK Textiles Firms Desperate to Make PPE

Photo: The Guardian

(Photo credit: The Guardian)

From The Guardian.

By Rob Davies

Too much emphasis placed on brand names to help during coronavirus crisis, say industry sources.

The government has been too slow to enlist British textile firms to make protective gear for the NHS, according to industry figures, who say they have been desperate to contribute to the “war effort”.

Faced with a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), the Cabinet Office has only recently begun scrambling to source it from UK suppliers and has now outsourced the process to consultants from accountancy group Deloitte.

Industry figures said too much emphasis had been placed on high-profile names such as Burberry, the luxury fashion house that Matt Hancock said on 3 April was producing medical gowns.

Kate Hills, the founder of Make It British, which promotes brands that manufacture in the UK, said the government was ignoring less well-known textile specialists in favour of household names that play well with the public. “They’re just picking out brand names,” she said.

“The people who can make this PPE are not well-known names, they are contract manufacturers behind the scenes. They’ve filled in the government’s request forms and heard nothing back.”

A separate source with knowledge of the fashion industry’s efforts said: “You can’t put all your eggs in that one Burberry basket.”

Hills said UK firms had been clamouring to help supply the NHS for more than a month, but that the government had instead focused on brands such as Burberry, as well as sourcing equipment from overseas.

“The number one priority was to secure anything already made that they could get on a plane from other countries. We don’t have the capacity and the products ready off the shelf because for years the NHS have been procuring products from cheap overseas suppliers.

“We have to put the supply chain back together from scratch. It’s almost as if there had to be a desperate need before they looked on their own doorstep.”

One major clothing supplier, who asked not to be named, said their firm had also struggled to get interest from the government. “The level that we’re scaling up is embarrassing. If the borders shut and we couldn’t bring in masks from China, we’d be screwed.”

The source said the process of getting protective clothing out to the NHS was mired in confusion from the government about the regulatory and testing regime for PPE.

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