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Struggle to save 350 disabled workers' jobs as last Remploy factories close

Discussion in 'Disability News, Articles & Research' started by Michael, Oct 30, 2013.

  1. Michael
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    Michael Developer Staff Member Admin

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    Remploy factories shut up shop – the end of an era for disabled workers | David Brindle

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    After 67 years, the government has called time on employment for people with disabilities in state-run sheltered factories

    The last Remploy factories close on Thursday, ending 67 years of state-run sheltered factory employment for disabled people in the UK. For some, it represents a long overdue progression from paternalist attitudes towards disability and work; for others, an unforgivable betrayal.

    Closure of Remploy's remaining three furniture factories in Blackburn, Sheffield and Neath, south Wales, will draw a line under an issue that has riven the disability movement and caused huge difficulties for successive governments. Recriminations are likely to continue for many years, but there will be no return to the concept, part of the welfare state settlement, of a protected workspace for disabled people, operated and subsidised by the taxpayer.

    Tim Matthews, Remploy's chief executive, has overseen the final, painful switch from sheltered factories to supporting people with disabilities into mainstream employment – a side of the operation that will continue.

    For him, the move has seemed inevitable since the day, four years ago, when he visited Remploy's Birkenhead textile factory, which eventually closed last year.

    "For a variety of reasons, they had lost their contracts, and there were 30 or 40 people sitting there doing absolutely nothing," Matthews recalls. "They had no work to do and had not had any work for some time.

    "Later, I went down the road to the Birkenhead branch of Remploy Employment Services (Res), which had not been open very long, and learned that they had placed more than 40 people in work in six months. That was quite a contrast: 40 people sitting around doing nothing in our factory against 40 people in productive jobs in the local economy. Which was the right model for supporting disabled people in the 21st century?"

    Critics accuse Matthews and Remploy's senior management of having done little to win new business for the factories, which numbered 83 as recently as 2007. Twenty-nine of those were closed the following year under the Labour government – something for which Peter Hain, who was work and pensions secretary and the MP for Neath, in south Wales, continues to be vilified in some quarters.

    In 2008, Matthews, a former leading NHS executive, was recruited to try to make a go of the remaining 54 factories, while developing Res, under a modernisation plan that was given £555m of government funding over five years. But the economic recession hit that same year and the rapid move to outsourcing of public-sector services meant that councils, the health service and other government bodies were placing fewer contracts with Remploy – despite exhortations by ministers, notably then prime minister Gordon Brown who was a strong supporter of the organisation.

    Matthews thinks it might have been possible to save a core group of factories if he had been allowed to make further closures and refocus product lines. But the issue had become too hot a potato for Labour, which was by then dogged by vociferous protests by Remploy workers .

    The coalition government commissioned a report on the future of disability employment and training from a review team led by Liz Sayce, chief executive of disability charity Radar (now Disability Rights UK) and a known critic of sheltered factories. The report recommended winding down support for segregated employment, saying that each of the 2,800 Remploy factory workers was subsidised by an average £25,000 a year that could be better spent.

    With that political cover, and following a subsequent consultation, ministers announced in March last year that all subsidies would end and the factories sold or closed.

    Of the 54 factories, 36 were deemed unviable and shut in 2012. Of the remaining 18, three have been sold as going concerns. The sale of the successful automotive component division, which accounts for a further three, and of Remploy's CCTV monitoring business is on the verge of completion. New small-scale enterprises owned and run by some of the workers made redundant have sprung up in seven other factories.

    In all, about 390 jobs are expected to be saved or created out of 1,200 that remained in December. At their peak, in the late 1980s, Remploy factories employed more than 10,000 people at 94 sites – though they never made a profit.

    It is unclear how many ex-Remploy workers have found other jobs. The Department for Work and Pensions says it has contact with 1,300 of the 1,800 people made redundant since March 2012, of whom 535 are back in work and 398 are in training. An £8m support package has been allocated, together with 200 personal case workers.

    Matthews leaves Remploy at the end of the year when his contract finishes. A new chief executive will run Res, which has helped 50,000 disabled and disadvantaged people into work in the past four years. By March 2015, it is expected to be in private hands.

    Matthews says: "By all measures … the business [Res] is going extremely well."

    To some, nothing can replace the support that the sheltered factories offered. Jerry Nelson, national officer for Remploy at the GMB trade union, says: "This is devastating for the people involved, some of the most disadvantaged in society. For many, the factory has been their whole life – and their lives are being destroyed."

    David Brindle

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  2. Michael
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    Michael Developer Staff Member Admin

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    Struggle to save 350 disabled workers' jobs as last Remploy factories close

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    Buyers found for car parts and CCTV businesses but unions warn that shutdown is 'destroying people's lives'

    Eleventh-hour deals are being struck to save more than 350 disabled workers' jobs as the last of the government's Remploy factories close on Thursday after a bitter six-year battle to save them.


    All sides are confident that Remploy's car component and CCTV monitoring businesses will be sold as the shutters come down on factories in Blackburn, Sheffield and Neath, which have failed to find a buyer.


    All public subsidies for Remploy's factories cease at midnight on Thursday, following a decision by ministers in March last year to switch state support to schemes helping disabled people into mainstream employment.


    A government-commissioned report in 2011 found that each job in a Remploy factory was being subsidised at an average rate of £25,000 a year. It estimated that a third more disabled people could be supported into work if the funding was reallocated.


    However, fewer than one in three of the 1,800 Remploy workers already made redundant is known to be back in employment despite an £8m fund to assist them.


    Jerry Nelson, national officer for Remploy at the GMB trade union, said the factory closures were "destroying people's lives" because their jobs represented not only work, but also social contact and support.


    Remploy was set up after the second world war to provide jobs for disabled war veterans and miners. The first factory opened in 1946 in Bridgend, south Wales, making violins. At the organisation's peak in the late 1980s, more than 10,000 people were employed at 94 sites across the UK.


    The Blair government decided in 2007 to close 29 of the then 83 factories, sparking the Save Remploy campaign that has since harried and embarrassed disability and employment ministers of all parties.


    The coalition declined to renew the five-year, £555m subsidy given to Remploy in 2008. With the backing of some leading disability charities, it has argued that sheltered factories employing barely 2,000 people are outdated and unacceptably costly when there are 6.9 million disabled people of working age.


    Thursday's closures will be of the last of 54 factories shut or sold by the coalition.


    Tim Matthews, Remploy's chief executive, said the future lay in the organisation's successful employment services division, helping disabled people find jobs in the wider labour market. But Nelson said most of the factories' workers stood no chance of finding other work.


    "The state will end up paying them the same amount, or even more, in unemployment and disability benefits," he said.


    An estimated 80 to 100 Remploy workers have been re-employed by small-scale enterprises started in seven former factories. Others have transferred to new employers who have bought the IT recycling, healthcare and filter manufacturing businesses.


    Contracts are being finalised for the transfer of 140 CCTV workers and 216 employees of the car component business and its factories in Birmingham, Coventry and Derby.


    The automotive business is being bought by Arlington Industries, set up by David Roberts and Kevin Morley, who was managing director of the former Rover Group. They have registered the name Rempower for the new business.


    Nelson said: "They want to expand the factories and take on more disabled people. It's one good thing to come out of all this."


    theguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

    Continue reading...

    Source: www.guardian.co.uk

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