OPINION - Jeremy Hunt can learn more from London Fashion Week than style tips


Last month we celebrated the 40th anniversary of London Fashion Week. With a technical recession just declared, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt may have had other things on his mind — but he should take notice, and not just for style tips.

The UK fashion and textiles industry employs nearly 900,000 people, contributing £62 billion annually to the economy. London Fashion Week alone generates a quarter of a billion pounds. The industry itself dwarfs the automotive industry.

Yet the sector faces seriously challenging conditions.

Inflation and Brexit have been deeply problematic — the EU accounted for 75 per cent of our fashion and textiles exports and more than 30 per cent of the sector’s imports. Now Brexit’s red tape has made working with UK companies much harder. This will only worsen as visa requirements come in later this year, making UK talent such as models, stylists and photographers less desirable to EU clients.

The fashion industry dwarfs the automotive industry — yet the sector faces seriously challenging conditions.

Our talent pipeline is also under pressure. Since 2010, the number of students taking arts GCSEs has fallen by more than 40 per cent thanks to an increasing focus on “core subjects”. But many employers consistently identify creativity as the skill they desire most. Global competition is fierce, but policymakers are contemplating even more new rules to make it harder for international students to bring their skills here.

Early results from a survey by Erskine Analysis in partnership with University of the Arts London show that most creative industry companies believe that their sectors have lost competitiveness over the last 10 years. That’s deeply troubling. Moreover, the creative industries can’t get the funding they need.

Currently, only one per cent of UK Research and Innovation’s spending is invested in the creative industries.

Like any milestone birthday, LFW’s 40th prompted a lot of reflection — what is the secret to its success? Fashion, like the wider creative industries, has repeatedly demonstrated the ambition, energy, and innovation needed to unlock growth. Now the Government just needs to embrace it.

James Purnell is President and Vice-Chancellor of University of the Arts London