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Government orders millions of pieces of UK-made PPE

PPE made in the UK
PPE – we are now making it in the UK

Whilst orders are now coming through for PPE made in the UK this only covers the next few months. What is the long term solution?

If you’ve been listening to the Make it British podcast over the last few weeks you’ll have heard my thoughts on why we should be making Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the UK.

Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak there has been reports of a national shortage of the PPE that front line healthcare workers need.

Many UK manufacturers have very kindly been making gowns, scrubs and masks and donating them to local hospitals, but this was never a long term solution. UK textile manufacturers needed to be paid in order to make it sustainable for the long term. Which is what I said to Vogue Business in this article.

It was ludicrous, but inevitable, that the UK got itself in this situation in the first place.

Years of procuring PPE for the cheapest possible price has led to virtually all of this vital life-saving kit being bought from overseas, mostly from China.

When the pandemic broke out every single country in the world was then looking for the same equipment, leading to a global shortage and a chance to look closer to home to see who could solve the problem.

Over the last 10 weeks I’ve been speaking to manufacturers, fabric mills and the government, and trying to help find solutions. It’s been a slow, and at times, very frustrating journey.

“Over the last 10 weeks I’ve been speaking to manufacturers, fabric mills and the government, and trying to help find solutions. It’s been a slow, and at times, very frustrating journey.”

Kate Hills, Make it British

A lack of understanding of the UK textile industry landscape by those who were handling the project at first meant that completely the wrong companies were approached from the 14,500 offers that they received for help.

Unlike other UK manufacturing industries, such as the car industry, the textile industry in the UK is made up of thousands of small and micro businesses. There is no Rolls Royce or Land Rover equivalent when it comes to clothing factories in Britain. Not any more.

Burberry is one well-known brand name that does have a factory here, but it houses just a few hundred workers, not thousands.

So the solution to getting the PPE made in the UK was always going to be a Dunkirk-style rescue mission involving little ships rather than big ones. And to be able to do that they needed to understand where all of those small ships were moored.

I’ve been mapping out the UK textile industry landscape for the last 12 years now. It’s been my passion project ever since I left my corporate career as a fashion buyer.

We were becoming too reliant on China for manufacturing and I want to ensure that there is a future for manufacturing in the UK because I had a feeling that one day we would need it.

I want to ensure that there is a future for manufacturing in the UK because I had a feeling that one day we would need it.

Kate Hills, Make it British

With my knowledge of the UK textile industry I knew we had the capabilities in the UK to solve the nations shortage of PPE.

I even wrote an email to Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock entitled ‘A Local Manufacturing Solution to the PPE Shortage’ – I never got a reply from either of them.

[And if you want to read the document that I sent them on 28th March when I was fired up and furious about why they were ignoring the UK textile manufacturers then you can find it here]

Two months later the first round of UK manufacturers have finally received their PPE orders from the Government.

The disposable gowns will be made using a non-woven fabric manufactured in Scotland by a company called Don & Low and they will be cut and sewn at factories across the UK.

Could this all have come a lot sooner?

Yes it certainly could have. But at least the manufacturers are now being paid for the PPE that they are making.

Whilst orders are now coming through for PPE made in the UK these only cover the next few months. What is the long term solution?

There needs to be a commitment to manufacture PPE in the UK, and disposable products, that are made and then discarded in their billions, are not a sustainable long term option.

“There needs to be a commitment to manufacture PPE in the UK, and disposable products, that are made and then discarded in their billions, are not a sustainable long term option.”

Kate Hills, Make it British

Gowns can be manufactured from woven fabrics, made by textile firms such as Toray Textiles in Nottinghamshire and Heathcoat Fabrics in Devon, and then laundered and reused.

For every one hundred disposable gowns there needs to be just one or two reusable ones, and the UK easily has the capacity to make all of the gowns that our hospitals would need.

If there is one good thing that has come out of this awful pandemic, it is that we will come out of it with less reliance on China for manufacturing.

If that is the case then my mission over the last twelve years will finally be coming to fruition.

Interview on BBC Breakfast about how UK manufacturers could help solve the PPE shortage

Comments

13 Comments

  1. Teresa Mcgill on May 29, 2020 at 11:10 am

    You are doing a brilliant job, Kate. You are absolutely right to argue for British manufacturing as a long term solution, not only for PPE disposable products but generally as a key way forward out of the challenges post Covid. Keep up the good work, Kate. Our country needs you!

    • Make it British Make it British on May 30, 2020 at 3:21 pm

      Thanks Teresa!
      I hope that this country will now make a long term commitment to developing our manufacturing base post Covid.

  2. Ros on May 29, 2020 at 11:11 am

    What a worthwhile and fascinating post.

  3. David Clarke on May 29, 2020 at 11:21 am

    Well said Kate. Let’s pray that Build Back Better includes a commitment to Make Back Better.

    Keep you the fabulous work

    David

  4. Caroline Green on May 29, 2020 at 12:35 pm

    Brilliant and thanks for all your hard work Katie

  5. Mike Withers on May 30, 2020 at 12:20 am

    There seems to be an inherent self sacrificial internationalism that runs through the British establishment and civil service. For hundreds of years up to and including the second world war they had a highly strategic view of the world whereby we were either self sufficient or not reliant on any one source for those things vital to our national wellbeing. Since then for some inexplicable reason they have abandoned this for a vague notion that if we sacrifice some of our wealth and security somehow the world will respond in a non confrontational manner and become universally more secure and prosperous. This view while laudable is sadly wishfull thinking and has only served to enrich totalitarian China. We have literally financed the tyrants who wish to enslave us by outsourcing everything to them. We may just be in time to stop this but it will take a complete change of mindset from both government and people. Now, more than ever before is the time to buy British, re establish a proper full spectrum British manufacturing industry and never ever fall into the trap again of over reliance on external sources.

    • john coleman on June 4, 2020 at 3:28 pm

      Well said mike. There seem whole sectors where we dont seem to have many or any british or any locally sourced products. do we make domestic fridges or radios or irons or electric drills or laptops or mobile phones or solar panels and if we do what is the quality & reliability and is it vastly more expensive than from outside europe? BTW keep up the great work Kate and co. 😀

      • Make it British Make it British on June 5, 2020 at 6:04 am

        Thank John
        You’re right, so many product types that we don’t make here any more. We’ve found the same when trying to find manufacturers of these products to put in our new directory. Electrical goods manufacturers are particularly lacking.
        The manufacturing sector needs a lot of government funding to get more of these types of products made here again.

    • Make it British Make it British on June 5, 2020 at 6:01 am

      Completely agree Mike.
      It’s all about cost price. Everyone chasing after the cheapest possible price.
      But now look where it’s got us!
      Prices in China have gone up significantly over the last decade. Now they don’t look so enticing, but it will take a while to build the manufacturing base in the UK up again.
      It’s very frustrating!

  6. Darren Roberts on May 30, 2020 at 4:37 am

    Kate, you’re doing a fantastic job, as usual

  7. Marcia McGrail on May 30, 2020 at 10:55 am

    Thanks for the passion and committment, Kate.
    I wholeheartedly agree with Mike Wither’s broad sweep of the historical path that has brought us to this point – our ability to produce, provide, manufacture necessities, export any excess, import otherwise depends on a robust infrastructure that sadly has been allowed to erode. Whilst the vociferous will take the opportunity to cry zenophobia to all attempts to rationalise the present situation, Australia should be a glaring heads-up for a more balanced economy and manufacturing base. We are going to need it.
    (ps – Why can’t we grow/manufacture our own eco-friendly sustainable bamboo products? Clothes/PPE – almost anything!)

  8. Maria Witham on June 3, 2020 at 4:49 pm

    Well said Kate ! We need manufacturing to come back to the UK. Well done to those who’ve managed to carry on and well done to you too !

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