Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Walpole CEO: ‘Help Great British fashion to trade with Europe’

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As the Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and Labour release their manifestos this week, Helen Brocklebank, CEO of luxury industry body Walpole, urges the new government to support Great British fashion – through relationships with its European Union trading partners and high-spending shoppers.

No matter which party forms the next government, they will have an overflowing inbox jammed full of challenges and difficult trade-offs. The UK’s high-growth luxury sector already contributes a massive £81bn a year to the UK economy, and employs more than 450,000 people the length and breadth of the country. With the right support, it can grow further and contribute even more – the government just has to help unlock this.

Extending the UK’s geographical indication regime to include skilled craft manufacturing such as Savile Row tailoring or Northamptonshire shoemaking would help protect these historic industries and promote the UK’s outstanding products around the world. It would also bring us into line with other European countries that already have these protections in place.

A new, digital tax-free shopping scheme would not only be a huge boost to tourism and retail, but the impact would also be felt across the UK by manufacturers – for example, Burberry, which manufactures in Yorkshire, Church’s in Northamptonshire or Mulberry in the south-west. This would bring back spending from Paris and Milan, where the scheme is still on offer. It would support UK manufacturing and highly skilled employment in the luxury sector, and improve the public finances. It would be a win-win for business and government.

At £56bn a year – the equivalent of almost 7% of the UK total – British luxury is one of this country’s essential export champions heading for overseas markets. From America to Asia, we are breaking into new markets, and growing in existing ones. However, luxury is an Anglo-European success story, so it is disappointing that Europe has dropped from 42% of our exports in 2017 to 32% in 2022.

The impact of increasing trade barriers has made life harder for businesses, and customers have suffered. The next government must use the review [due to conclude in 2026] of the Trade and Co-operation Agreement [post-Brexit trading deal signed on 30 December 2020, which came into force on 1 May 2021] to reduce the barriers to trade with our nearest neighbours.

More election 2024 for the fashion retail industry

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