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Clegg targets middle classes on West visit

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: March 22, 2014

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg visited the Mulberry factory in Somerset. He is pictured getting to grips with the production line alongside local MP Tessa Munt PICTURE: Fran Stothard

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Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg put aside the furore over the bingo and beer-loving working class Budget on a visit to the West yesterday – by visiting an organic farm kitchen and a designer handbag firm.

The Liberal Democrat leader toured the West Country to promote the Government's Budget and its efforts on apprenticeships, childcare and economic growth, as the furore over his Conservative coalition colleagues' PR disaster of hailing cuts to taxes on bingo and beer to help "hardworking people do more of the things they enjoy" continued.

But Mr Clegg's pre-planned post-Budget visits appeared distinctly middle class, visiting Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage to help cook breakfast with apprentice chefs, before officially opening a new luxury handbag factory at Bridgwater in Somerset.

The new Mulberry factory, which secured £2.5 million of support from the Coalition's Regional Growth Fund, sells handbags starting at around £500 but has had a tough time with a slump in sales which has sent the stock market value crashing from £1.5 billion to just £400 million.

The new investment doubles Mulberry's UK capacity with a second Somerset factory, creating 300 new jobs for the area and building on "the region's position as a fashion manufacturing hub", officials said.

Mr Clegg met a group of Mulberry apprentices on the factory floor as they created the top quality leather goods.

"This is the second time I have met apprentices from Mulberry, who always impress me with their drive, enthusiasm and skill," Mr Clegg said.

"This is an international fashion brand based in Somerset and I am pleased that the Government is able to offer assistance to help it expand. This new Mulberry factory is a major boost to the economy of the area, creating hundreds of new jobs thanks to this Government's Regional Growth Fund. Companies like Mulberry and the people who work here are helping us to build a stronger economy and a fairer society for this generation and the next," he added.

The new factory means Mulberry can produce 50 per cent of its bags in the UK. Earlier this week it was announced that the high-end brand's French boss, Bruno Guillon, has left the firm after a testing two years at the helm.

The departure of Mr Guillon, who joined Mulberry from Hermes, comes two months after a major profit warning. He will be replaced on an interim basis by former boss Godfrey Davis, who oversaw the rapid growth of the brand between 2002 and 2012.

Mr Davis, who will revert back to his old role of executive chairman until a successor is found, said Mr Guillon had improved the quality of the Mulberry offering and increased its appeal in international markets. He added: "I am confident that Mulberry has the heritage, brand appeal and products to build on what has been achieved."

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