The Textile Services Association (TSA), the trade association for the textile services industry, is calling on the Government to ensure that during and beyond any Brexit transitional deal, a flexible immigration system is introduced to ensure continued access to labour from the European Union. This must be coupled with minimal import tariffs for industrial equipment and cleaning chemicals, said TSA CEO Philip Wright, in his address to delegates.

Attendees heard that the findings of an independent economic report commissioned by the TSA, illustrate how the UK’s £1.86 billion textile services industry, which provides rental and commercial laundry services, is the hidden engine driving the UK’s health, hospitality and manufacturing sectors processing 53 million items a week – and how reliant this sector is on labour from the EU.

The TSA report highlights four economic challenges:

Brexit – the industry’s workforce is made up of 40% non-UK EU nationals who fear an uncertain status for themselves and their family members.

Recruitment – the sector directly employs 34,400 people yet TSA’s survey found 62% of laundry firms had unfilled vacancies and 41% found it took longer to fill vacant posts than last year.

Downward pressure on prices – the sustained record plunge in sterling since Brexit has pushed up import prices for cleaning products, chemicals and machinery.

Rising costs of production – in the second quarter of 2017, costs had increased by a weighted average of 4.05%, more than the 2.6% rate of inflation (CPI).

The TSA points out that members continue to invest record levels in innovation and the automation of their plants, and contribute £1.86 billion to the UK economy. They directly support sectors that contribute £630 billion to the UK economy every year, and as such, the TSA argues that the Government must tailor UK policies “to support this hidden engine of the UK economy”.

 “The report proves that textile services are critical for large swathes of the UK economy, including hotels, restaurants, hospitals, high tech manufacturing and life sciences sectors. Everyone from patients, tourists, factory workers and chefs rely on products processed by TSA member firms without realising, yet their absence would cause monumental disruption,” said Wright. He added: “TSA members face a number of economic challenges and call on the Government to make the right choices during Brexit negotiations to ensure access to labour and vital machinery and chemicals remain affordable after we leave the EU.”

In the association’s ‘Industry Employment Trends for 2017’, published in September, the report highlighted that 38% of members’ employees originating from the European Union (EU). This equates to 11,900 EU employees playing a crucial role in supporting the NHS, tourism and hospitality and all sectors of industry across the UK. Over 10% of respondents ran facilities where the percentage of EU workers was more than 80%, with the maximum standing at 95%.

Tim Fanning of Regeneris Consulting, reported: “The Regeneris study looked at the role of the sector in supporting the economy.  The research showed how many work in sector and their skills, nationality, and contribution contribution to Exchequer and was an opportunity to look at other key issues. We interviewed a selection of TSA members – understanding their business models and informing the survey. The sector is currently hidden – especially in national statistics – so this project enabled some primary research.”

GK Strategy, newly appointed PR to TSA, followed up with Matt Palutikof who added his comments: “Over a few months Regeneris received  24 responses from TSA membership – ¾ of the sector in terms of turnover, so feel this as important research.”

 “The Regeneris report gives great collateral to draw on. The civil service needs this information to navigate Brexit. Consultation, calls for evidence, the EU Withdrawal Bill – these are the hooks we are using to let civil servants know we are here. The sector’s economic contribution is huge and we want that recognised by the Government. Partnerships, huge investment in businesses and modernisation.”

Palutikof said the TSA is now engaging with local MP to the TSA, Keir Starmer, Shadow Brexit Secretary, with “very useful meetings arranged. Also, Labour’s Esther McVey is scrutinising immigration issues. On top of that we have been talking to minister for tourism John Glenn whose office is keen to meet with the TSA.”

The circular economy

David Fitzsimons of Oakdene Hollins delivered a paper on the circular economy and ideas for how the industry can be pushing the dialogue. He stressed the importance of the industry – suppliers and operators – finding ways to deal with its waste sustainably which led smoothly into a supplier panel session with Dave Aveyard, Christeyns; Selwyn Burchhardt, Kannegiesser; and Raj Ruia, Richard Haworth. The panel claimed industry supply partners are driving the laundry industry’s efficiency forward with innovative solutions. At the end of the panel, delegates were asked to vote on their most pressing problem – extending the life of textiles and engaging directly with the customer to do so was the prime concern.

Next to present was Peter Woolstenholmes of Berendsen UK gave a short run-through of the best areas in a laundry to target when reducing your energy consumption with beneficial knock-on effects to productivity.

The sustainability module was completed with Matt Kitching from Carbon Trust providing delegates with the funding options to obtain investment, making energy reduction accessible for all.

Health & safety

Anne Davies of GunnerCooke LLP had the challenge of reaching delegates to impart the message that Health & Safety cannot be ignored and pretty much scared the life out of the audience by explaining that a half-hearted approach to the “dry subject” of H&S could result in fines of up to £10 million depending on level of culpability in case of an accident and hefty prison terms for those found guilty of corporate manslaughter. Davies then ably led a panel of experts from across the industry: Alistair Hopkins, Berendsen; Frank Everts, Ecolab; and, Peter Butler, Johnson Service Group to provide industry context.

James Lohan, entrepreneur, and owner of closed the conference day with tales of his romantic-weekend-inspired guidebook and travel club business. “It is all about the hotel experience, right down to the fluffiness of the towels, and not about how many lifts or stars an establishment has,” he said.n

‘The Economic Value of the Textile Services Association’ was authored by independent consulting firm October 2017 and commissioned by the TSA.