Ladies and Gentlemen, I am enormously grateful to everybody for making this huge effort to join the Dumfries House Textiles Festival today. My wife and I were so pleased to have a chance this morning to have a look round, to visit everybody's stalls and hear a little bit about what you're all doing.

Personally, I was particularly interested anyway in finding out as much as I could about your skills shortages and the challenges you have because, maybe now, you realise why I got together with James Sugden.

I had a conversation about two years ago with somebody who was much involved in the fashion sector, particularly in the high-end side of things. She was telling me about the real shortage of fine sewing skills. I thought, being an interfering busybody, I would try to find a way to help. Fortunately, over the years I got to know a few people around the bazaars so I was able to speak to one or two and that's how I discovered the wonderful Sarah Mower. Apart from anything else, today's event, I think, demonstrates what a vibrant, skilled and imaginative manufacturing industry we have here in Scotland. That’s what I try to remind people about because I think a lot of people have forgotten how many wonderful firms there are still buried in bits of Ayrshire and everywhere else in South West Scotland. We've lost a lot, but there are still some remarkable firms going, which I want to try to remind people about, not only here in Scotland, but also in the wider UK. Being able to showcase the immense brand value of British products is of enormous importance.

Textiles still make a significant contribution to the U.K. economy; according to The Alliance Report: "Repatriation of U.K. Textiles Manufacture", launched at the House of Commons in February, the total production value of U.K. textiles is worth just under £9 billion and growing… But in order to safeguard this vital, and precious, part of our economy in future years we must address the endemic skills shortage that exists in many parts of the industry, and ensure that young people are aware of the wonderful and rewarding opportunities for employment and long-term career prospects.

The deficit in traditional sewing skills was brought to my attention a couple of years ago and led to the establishment of the Future Textiles programme here at Dumfries House.  The sewing skills' workshops for teachers and pupils have been hugely successful, which is encouraging and I am delighted that we now have a permanent Atelier in the attic of the House.  This would not be possible without the support of Ayrshire College and Glasgow Clyde College, to which I am profoundly grateful.

Ladies and Gentlemen   Skills training and employment opportunities are the cornerstone of our work on the estate, that's why I wanted to help set up this heritage-led regeneration project. Our course programme includes traditional craft skills; engineering; horticulture; cooking and hospitality skills; rural and forestry skills; re-engaging children and adults with the countryside and outdoor activities; also a health initiative and arts programme. Training young people especially in these vital skills not only ensures their survival, but so often opens doors to rewarding and prosperous long-term employment for them.

Interestingly, going around the festival this morning and talking to you all, one of the things that became apparent to me was that not only do we need to find ways of drawing more young in, there are also opportunities for older people coming back into employment. That's another area of huge importance. We could make more about encouraging retired employees from textile companies to come back and help train the younger ones, so that we have an intergenerational connection.

As I saw earlier, the extraordinarily high quality of work produced by the British textiles industry should be a source of great pride to us.  At the end of the day, it is vital to emphasize that the future of the British textiles industry lies in the high quality, high end products. "Best of British" ranges are doing very well, so we need to build up this high quality section of the textile industry as Britain cannot compete with overseas production of the cheaper textiles.  So the industry also needs to invest in skills and modern technology.  In the recent past, textile firms worried desperately about there being enough orders - let alone surviving at all.  Now there is much more work, but there aren't enough skilled people to undertake it.  Hence the point of this Festival.  I hope, therefore, we can also inspire retailers and buyers to grow their confidence in what the industry here can provide and encourage manufacturing to be repatriated to our shores.

I am indebted to James Sugden and my Future Textiles Steering Group for all their hard work in putting together this festival, and particularly to Sarah Mower for gathering such an influential and inspiring group of speakers.  I am so touched that you have come all the way to East Ayrshire to support this venture.

I also would like to thank all our exhibitors here today who have showcased such a wonderful array of textiles.

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, can I also thank Creative Scotland, and the retailers and manufacturers who have helped this initiative.  Without their generosity, this festival would not have taken place. I hope and pray that all the subsequent networking and all the discussions you've had will lead on to even more worthwhile initiatives.