Some of the UK's apparel, footwear and textile industry is stuck in a time warp, according to Manchester businessman, John Lewis. Much more can and should be done to improve productivity and profitability. And unless action is taken today, there could be no jobs and no industry tomorrow.

Mr Lewis's company, Seven Seas Knitwear, supplies sweaters and cardigans to customers like the Arcadia Group. Mr Lewis will speak on behalf of Skillfast-UK, the sector skills council for apparel, footwear and textiles, at a reception at the TUC conference in Blackpool on 10 September.

He said: "Just look at the advances in technology since the last war. Men have walked on the moon, we can use the Internet to access information on the other side of the world in a matter of seconds, and we now know the entire make-up of the genetic blueprint of humanity. This isn't virtual reality. It is reality.

"Yet some elements of the UK apparel, footwear and textile industry are not moving at the same pace. Some UK companies can be very complacent. Our overseas competitors are making huge investments in their equipment and their workforce and they are thriving at our expense. If we are to prosper, we must do the same.'

Mr Lewis believes the UK industry should allow the Far East to take the bottom end of the market. Instead of trying to compete on low cost, high volume production, we should concentrate on high quality, leading edge, specialist products. Japan is producing some wonderful yarns at the moment, and we should increase the skills of our workforce so we can do the same. The key to this, Mr Lewis believes, is training.

"Some people are very resistant to the idea of training. Owners and managers worry that they might train their personnel only to lose them to a competitor. Workers are concerned that they may spend time training on processes that could become obsolete as technology moves on. But there is no way round the basic issue that if you invest in new, hi-tech machinery, you must have people who are trained to use it efficiently."

Training is vital to create a highly skilled workforce, but according to Mr Lewis, there are other issues that should be addressed by training.

"We need to educate the workforce to be more productive by producing less waste and recycling more. There are also lifestyle issues to consider. For maximum productivity we also need workers who are fit, healthy, and free from stress with the right balance of work, home and family life. All this requires education."

"To achieve this we need a lot of like-minded people to get together and really make things happen. It's not a question of safeguarding the industry and safeguarding jobs. What we need is a complete rebirth. We need new thinking, modern plants, modern machinery and a brand new image to attract the new recruits who will make our industry prosper. Employers, trade unions, education and government all have an essential part to play."

Joining Mr Lewis on the speakers' platform at the Skillfast-UK reception is Des Farrell, National Secretary of the GMB Clothing and Textile Section. Mr Farrell is a strong advocate of government intervention to save manufacturing jobs, and he believes the government should use its own purchasing power to back British industry.