Textiles minister, Patricia Hewitt, says it is vital that textile firms in the UK exploit niche markets with a "reasonable return".

And she has attacked the structure of the industry, saying too much production is concentrated on low-value products which could be vulnerable to foreign imports.

Her comments come after the loss of around 475 jobs in Derbyshire following the management buyout of Coats Viyella's Contract Clothing Division, chiefly the Marks & Spencer supply business.

The business has been sold to Marplace, a company formed by the senior management of the division for the purpose of the buyout.

Local paper, the Derby Evening Telegraph, contacted Mrs Hewitt after she came under attack following workers' pleas for answers to the loss of their jobs.

Mrs Hewitt responded, saying that the weakness of the Euro had made life difficult for British firms exporting to Europe, and that manufacturers were feeling the pressure of global competition.

She told the Telegraph: "We also have to look at the structure of the industry in the UK. Too much of the UK's production was in the area of relatively low-value products which were vulnerable to competition from imports.

"It is vital that textile firms exploit niche markets with a reasonable return," she said.

Mrs Hewitt pledged that Marplace's redundant workers are to be helped with "rapid response measures" to help them find new jobs or re-train.

Meanwhile, the Nottingham and Derbyshire Clothing and Textiles Association (NADCAT) is actively lobbying MPs and talking with the EMDA to see what aid can be offered to the East Midlands' ailing textile industry.

By Deborah Bowyer