The Textile Services Association (TSA) Autumn Conference, 15-16 April at Hilton St George’s Park, Burton Upon Trent, on day 2 saw delegates welcomed by Charlie Betteridge, TSA chair. The event follows the new format, introduced last year at the autumn conference which kicks off on day 1 (15 April) with a Supply Partner Meeting followed by specific industry workshops.

It is a format that seems to be working well, said Betteridge, who commented: “It is useful for supply partners as they can find out about all sectors. And the new format allows attendees to choose the workshops they are interested in.”  

Surveying the room, he said: “There are a lot of people here today and some new faces. I am going to reiterate what I said at the National Congress in Liverpool*, in February which is that the past four years haven’t been easy. I will temper that by saying the previous 12 years had been very easy, life was stable and predictable. Inflation was at its lowest since the war. We would go and see clients and happily reach agreement to put up our prices by 1% a year, increasing profitability. As managers, we had it easy, too.

“As an industry we need predictability, not spikes which leave us never knowing where we are day to day. What is the new normal? Where we are now (before wasn’t normal). Things have changed, the market has changed. Business travel is down, yes, Teams meetings are great, businesses can save money. I met with representatives of UKHA (the trade association for the hospitality industry) recently and they were saying it is still very difficult to get staff. Many hotels are not running at full capacity because of this. However, hotels are finding ways to get around this. We are used to being asked to use towels twice, but some are going a step further. Don’t want your room cleaned? Have a free drink at the bar. But it is not win-win for us as volumes are coming down from hotels,” said Betteridge.

“We can’t change what is happening in Ukraine, Israel, Gaza, Iran and elsewhere in the world. If Trump gets back as President of the USA he will put import tariffs on everything with a trade surplus to the USA. The other thing is that we are also going to have a general election in this country. We know who will win that. It will be. Landlside for Labour and a big majority. We do not know what they will do about business. Some say neither does Sir Keir Starmer…but Shadow Treasurer Rachel Reeves used to be an economist for the Bank of England and previously served as Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. We will have to see,” said Betteridge.

He went on to refer to a previous presenter at a TSA event, Keith Parry, who said: “When things go wrong, magnify the positives and move on.”

“We need to do this. This is the new normal,” commented Betteridge. “Looking at the market in general, it seems to be doing quite well. As I have said before,  inflation is our biggest enemy – cost up, prices up (too late and not enough). To counter inflation interest rates go up and borrowing for cap-ex is pointless. Currently we are looking at 2.6% inflation. We can live with that.”

“Other challenges include the national living wage up 10% and bad debt is up 13.7% which is bad news if it is owed to your company. But it should get better. Cyber crime is a big worry. Figures from the USA show ransomware incursions have cost $1.1bn. TSA is now looking at cyber security. The industry needs to take it very seriously.”