In an announcement timed to coincide with the opening of London Fashion Week, the British government has pledged £1.5 million to help the UK clothing industry improve its competitiveness. It hopes that by forging closer links between designers, manufacturers and retailers, the sector will enhance its efficiency and flexibility - and transform supply chains.

The measures have been introduced as a follow-up to the 12-point plan for the textiles industry that was unveiled by Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Buyers in the summer.

The money will support a Textile and Clothing Industry Forum, a government and industry partnership that will work towards improving supply chain relationships within the industry.

Speaking at the launch of the initiative, Textiles Minister Patricia Hewitt said: "The global market for textiles and clothing is changing rapidly. This Government is committed to working with industry and helping it to respond to these changes." She added that the announcement of £1.5 million for the Textile and Clothing Forum "will help industry to adapt and improve its competitive position.

"The Forum has been developed by industry and covers every aspect from design to clothing manufacture to retailing. Closer relationships throughout the supply chain will improve efficiency, flexibility and competitiveness.

"Our support for the Forum fulfils a commitment made on 6 June to put in place effective measures to help the industry, and meets one of the recommendations of the industry-led Textile and Clothing Strategy Group."

With a membership that is made up of trade associations, academics, leading manufacturers and retailers, the Forum will work on a regional basis with local partners to deliver what is described as "a comprehensive Supply Chain Transformation Programme". This will include a series of awareness raising seminars; the launch of Best Practice Groups to share experiences and ensure continuous improvement; and the introduction of a system of benchmarking and evaluation supported by an Internet based learning network. The programme will also aim to increase technical "supply chain management" knowledge across the industry and increase skill levels.

James McAdam, chairman of the Textile and Clothing Strategy Group,
explained that establishing a Forum for Textiles and Clothing was a unanimous recommendation of the TCSG Report. He added that this latest initiative "represents a significant step on the road to implementation of that Strategy. It will be widely recognised as a welcome boost for the industry and a demonstration of the Government's commitment to support the sector."

In the past, unfavourable comparisons have been made with the aid given by the Government to other sectors such as automotives. The difficulties faced by the UK textile and clothing industry have accelerated the last year alone, with companies hit hard by the strong pound, the loss of major retail contracts, and changing consumer spending patterns on the high street. At the beginning of this month yet another blow was dealt, this time by the decision of Coats Viyella to pull out of contract and branded clothing, with an estimated loss of 5000 jobs in the UK.