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.

In an independent economic report commissioned by the TSA, the findings 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 reports highlights the fact that:

·  Small and industrial-sized textile rental and laundry firms decontaminate 13 million sheets and scrubs a week to keep England’s 142,000 hospital beds free from infection and underpin patient safety.

·  They enable the UK’s 45,000 hotels to function providing bed linen, towels, table cloths and employee uniforms; critical at a time when a record 40 million tourists visited the UK in the last year.

·  Modern manufacturing systems can be shut down by contamination from human hair or skin oils, making the UK’s automotive and technology sectors reliant on specialist textile cleaning services to function.

“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 Dr Philip Wright, TSA chief executive.

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 European Union.”

·  The Economic Value of the Textile Services Association report was authored by the independent consulting firm Regeneris in October 2017 and commissioned by the TSA