Even so, those leading the charge still rightly look for positive signs during all this, and David Stevens, chief executive of the Textile Services Association (TSA), has been doing just that. “The membership and rest of our industry has really worked together on collective issues, from the largest laundries to the smallest. That’s included 57 laundries across numerous sites, plus some 50 operations, including the small laundries, which are currently non-members,” he says.
There’s been a lot of shared knowledge and counselling on the best routes to staying in business, with competitive instincts put aside. Stevens and the TSA team are in regular contact with operations facing genuine adversity, with 90 per cent of staff furloughed and both owners and workers feeling ‘desperate’.
He’s hoping that, following successful survival plans, perhaps 20 or 30 will join the TSA as a result, having been involved in the new networking, Skype calls and webinars. But that’s for the future and right now the focus is on important issues, most of which could make or break sectors. “The key to all this in getting results is lobbying, and that’s tough,” Stevens admits. “Firstly, although it’s the most important thing to us, numerus other industries, their trade organisations and powerful voices from the big commercial enterprises, are doing exactly the same – in a queue, trying to reach the right ear in government for long enough to get the message across. Landing in the ‘pending tray’ is often an achievement, never mind seeing some action as a result.”
Stevens, like most of our trade association representatives, tries to keep a lid on his frustration, but it’s revealed – along with good news of progress – in what has become a stream of update newsletters sent out to members. In one of the latest he talks of producing guidelines for the re-opening of hospitality laundries, hoping ‘it won’t gather too much dust before we actually get round to using it’. The same newsletter is critical of the level of support from government on a re-usable gowns project but breakthroughs occur as bureaucratic logjams are cleared, so by the time you read this things will have hopefully moved in a better direction.
Asked by Laundry & Cleaning Today about all this, Stevens says: “You can be dealing with government and local authorities at the same time. You think you’re getting somewhere because a letter arrives from a minister which starts ‘Dear David’ and then you receive another one that’s identical, whether it’s signed by the chancellor or someone else.”
Lengthy sympathy letters from those in power often conclude with directing the recipient to guidance on websites they already know inside out. Even so, this apparent going round in circles can pay off. Having tried the usual channels to reach government officials – both politicians and civil servants – the TSA began publishing open letters to chancellor Rishi Sunak and business, energy and industrial strategy minister Alok Sharma alongside this.
The subject matter was laundries serving the hospitality industry, setting out how such businesses were an integral part of this vital contributor to UK GDP and so should be automatically included in the Hospitality Grant (Small Business Grant Fund) and the Business Rate Relief schemes. The struggle has been caused by a lack of uniformity in the response from local authorities to applications for support under the hospitality support schemes. In one council area an application by a laundry whose very survival depends on contracts with currently closed hospitality businesses would be accepted, while a near identical operation, both laundering and linen supply, in another local authority jurisdiction would find its bid rejected.
By mid-May 10 laundries had successfully navigated their way through this, including Midland Linen Services, Regency Laundry (Bath), Telford Laundry and Blossom & Brown of Newham. Meanwhile, many others backed by the TSA battled on and a week later knew of four more which had been approved. An improvement, but as Stevens acknowledged, the lobbying letters would continue to ‘see if we can drive them into submission’. Meanwhile, other TSA projects connected to the COVID battle continue to be handled by Stevens and his team, working from home. These include producing a good practice guide and hosting a webinar for when hospitality laundries re-open.
Then there’s the possible re-purposing of a hospitality laundry to process healthcare clients and an associated issue where, at the time of writing, a lack of government support is still causing frustration. It’s reusable gowns to replace much of single use PPE (around 45 million tonnes of such clinical waste is produced each year). The TSA is fighting this campaign on several fronts, believing that healthcare workers should not be taking home their workwear for home laundering, so increasing contamination risk.
As it happens, they’ve been supporting a two-year project with De Montfort University in Leicester which has been looking at the measuring of the ‘kill rate’ of bacteria by studying laundry liquor, temperature levels and the results from various wet and dry textiles. Now COVID-19 has been added to the research.
Progress with government on reusable gowns has been ‘frustratingly slow’, Stevens admits: “We could be servicing every care home. We’ve issued a joint document with PCIAW, a trade association for garment and fabric manufacturers who have also had similar experiences as ourselves when working with the government.”