Captains of the UK textile and clothing industry are meeting today in what is believed to be a first for the sector to get a new £1.5m Government project under way.

Members of the steering group for the Clothing and Textile Industry Forum are having their first meeting in London to discuss how the three-year project will be taken forward.

It is thought to be the first time that heads of top UK retailers and clothing manufacturers, usually battling it out on the high street, have got together to discuss the problems facing their market.

Textiles Minister, Patricia Hewitt, announced the £1.5m Government aid package at the start of London Fashion Week last week.

The Government hopes the programme will help create industry champions and find a long-term solution to global competitive pressures.

They want to create excellence in the supply chain and improve its efficiency and effectiveness. They plan to use IT, in particular e-commerce, to achieve this.

A forum is to be set up to move the project forward and one of the items on today's agenda is to formally agree a name for the forum.

Today's meeting of the steering group will be attended by chief executives and managing directors from various companies, including Freemans, Littlewoods, House of Fraser, GUS and Allders.

Project director of the forum, Ken Watson, said: "It should be an exciting meeting. It is the first time that a group of retailers and manufacturers have got together like this.

"We will be looking at various aspects of the project and what we are going to tackle first. This will include benchmarking performance and so on."

The objective is to carry out practical work in participating companies, to deliver best practice improvements in supply chain and manufacturing performance, and to support changes to current business practices.

The knock-on effects are expected to be seen in increased product availability, flexibility, innovation, time to market, stock turn and work in progress, as well as reduced lead times.

By Deborah Bowyer