I seem to have met so many farmers and shepherds, shearers and scourers, dyers, wool combers, spinners, weavers, yard makers, hand knitters, top end fashion designers, carpet beaters and home insulators today and I can’t tell you what a pleasure it’s been to have this opportunity of joining you here today. With this wool campaign we have knitted it together by scouring the countryside, combing through the fashion industry (I couldn’t resist this, I’m sorry!), weaving different countries into the efforts and then spinning a damn good story!
So if I may I just want to begin by thanking both Frank Languish and Ian Hartley and everyone at the British Wool Marketing Board for your wonderful support for my Campaign for Wool. I have to say at this stage that I never imagined for a moment that when we launched this Campaign, in the coldest barn I’ve ever been in, in January this year, that it would actually achieve the kind of traction it has done so quickly. So I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that that should be the case. While going around talking to you it’s actually raised my spirits to hear that sometimes some wool growers and farmers are having difficulty not smiling! Your involvement, and the Wool Marketing Board’s involvement at a crucial moment in the Campaign’s gestation, made all the difference and encouraged others to join in.
Ian Hartley and his team saw at once that we had a tremendous opportunity to unite the industry and grow the size of the market. And I should also, if I am allowed to in this august company, thank all the other wool industry organisations who have also supported this Campaign. It is, without doubt, the largest coalition working to promote wool that has ever been put together…
I would just like to thank publically both John Thorley and Nicholas Coleridge, the “Ant and Dec” of the Campaign for Wool, for their really excellent work as joint Chairmen. Bringing them together as we did has proved so successful and all their efforts and dedication has been quite remarkable.
And if I may, I would like to take this opportunity to talk a little about the importance of co-operation. Because I am sure that everyone here believes as firmly as I do in the benefits of wool as a natural and sustainable fibre. But there is no doubt that wool has lost ground to man made fibres. With demand falling it is quite normal for a sector to start trying to cut costs to keep a product competitive. But this cost-cutting means profits are lost for everyone in the industry – from the growers through to the sellers. And that, in turn, can lead to ruthless intra-industry competition, with everyone’s margins being squeezed at every stage. This approach is ultimately doomed.
So instead of the kind of dog-eat-dog competition which might otherwise occur it is much better that an industry comes together to promote the benefits of the product and this is, I am glad to say, what the Campaign for Wool has managed to achieve.
It really does give me enormous pleasure to see that you are working together successfully to help develop the market and increase the price of this wonderful fibre.
The wool and textile industry around Bradford plays clearly a vital role in the economic wellbeing of this region and I was enormously encouraged to see such impressive levels of innovation and quality at the sites I visited today. I was even more encouraged to find that the Curtis family and the scourers plant were so encouraged, and given such optimism as a result of the campaign, that they are investing even more in their plant and taking on more people.
Of course, the Campaign is also about helping sheep farmers. Up and down the United Kingdom, and indeed in many other countries, they are the backbone of the Countryside. They support a way of life which not only maintains the wonderful landscape, so that others can enjoy it, but also a rural culture which, in so many ways, defines National identities. We need to do all we can to ensure these hardy souls, hefted like their sheep, get the prices they deserve for the work they do. Which is another reason why I started the Mutton Renaissance Campaign some six years ago. Thanks to John Thorley, many marvellous celebrity chefs and others we have got more people now realising just how special all these old ewes are and I hope and pray that it has given a little bit of an extra boost to the price that all of you are getting.
I am also very proud of some of the marketing initiatives that we have managed to start in different parts of the country. They tell a story around particular areas of this remarkable country, whether it is in the North Highlands, the Peak District or the Cambrian Mountains. There are so many marvellous stories to tell, so many great traditions that are often in danger of dying out. If we let them die out inevitably people will miss them, so this is another reason why these great traditions in this country, of manufacturing and wonderful textiles and garments, is so crucial and why I am so proud of this wool campaign.
Sheep farmers in the UK have received low prices for their wool for far too long. I hope that the Campaign gives them every opportunity for as successful future as possible. Thank you.