Specialist Disability Employment
Oral Answers to Questions — Attorney-General
Maria Miller (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Disabled People), Work and Pensions; Basingstoke, Conservative)
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on Remploy.
I am sure that hon. Members agree that Remploy employees must be first and foremost in our minds today. That is why they have been notified first of the decisions of the Remploy board, in advance of this statement.
In her independent review, published last year, disability expert Liz Sayce made it clear that segregated employment is not consistent with equality for disabled people. The Sayce review sets out that money should support individual disabled people, not segregated institutions; it also recommends that Remploy factories should be set free from Government control. It cannot be right that the Government continue to subsidise segregated employment, which can lead to the isolation of disabled people. It is no alternative to promoting and supporting disabled people in mainstream jobs, the same as everyone else. I have been absolutely clear that the £320 million budget for disability employment services has been protected, but by spending it more effectively we can get thousands more disabled people into work. It is important that the money is spent in a way that is consistent with what disabled people want, consistent with this Government's commitment to disability equality, and consistent with helping more disabled people to live an independent life.
When Labour put in place the Remploy modernisation plan in 2008, they started a process, with £555 million provided to put the factories on to a proper financial footing. Mr Hain, who I see is in his place, told the House in 2007:
“The reality is that without modernisation Remploy deficits would obliterate our other programmes to help disabled people into mainstream work.”—[Hansard, 29 November 2007; Vol. 468, c. 448.]
As a result of those decisions, 29 factories were closed as part of that process. What is clear to us now is that the performance targets and the modernisation plan were not realistic, the reduction in costs could not be achieved, and the modernisation plan has failed.
In 2010-11, factories made losses of almost £70 million; that is money that could and should have been used to support thousands more disabled people into work. That is why the Government took the decision in March to implement Liz Sayce’s recommendations that we stop funding Remploy factories that have been losing millions of pounds, year after year, but we are committing to doing everything possible to minimise the number of redundancies.
Today I can inform the House that the Remploy board has considered in detail 65 proposals to take factories out of Government control as part of a commercial process. Those proposals have been scrutinised by a panel, independent of Remploy, established by the Department. The Remploy board and the Government have done all we can to support bids and safeguard jobs. That includes providing a wage subsidy of £6,400 for disabled members of staff, and a professional advice and support package worth up to £10,000 for each employee-led bid. On that basis, nine sites have had business plans accepted and
will now move forward to the “best and final offer” stage, at which detailed bids will be considered. Back in 2008, when the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Mr Byrne—I do not see him here today—started the modernisation process and closed 29 factories, there was no such offer. No factories were given the opportunity to continue outside of Government control; that is something that we wanted to change.
Remploy is hopeful that current negotiations may lead to the transfer of business and, importantly, the retention of jobs. That currently means that 27 Remploy sites will no longer operate. Details of those sites will be placed in the House of Commons Library, so that all hon. Members can see them; they will be able to get those details, and consider them fully. [Interruption.]
John Bercow (Speaker)
Order. There is a statement. There will be plenty of opportunity for Members to ask questions, and they can rely on me to protect their rights, but at this stage, the Minister must have her statement heard.
Maria Miller (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Disabled People), Work and Pensions; Basingstoke, Conservative)
Remploy employees have been informed of the board’s decision this afternoon. The Remploy board will now move into a period of individual consultation with Remploy employees. Undoubtedly, for those employees who have been told that their factories are closing, this is difficult news, but let me make one point absolutely clear: we are doing everything we can to ensure that Remploy workers who are affected will receive a comprehensive package of support and guidance to make the transition from Government-funded sheltered employment to mainstream jobs. [Interruption.]
John Bercow (Speaker)
Order. We now face the unenviable situation of having an exchange across the Chamber. Mr Heaton-Harris, calm yourself. If you wish to give vent to your views, behave like the good man you can, at your best, be, and you might succeed in catching the eye of the Chair. If you are not able to do that, you might find it more difficult.
Maria Miller (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Disabled People), Work and Pensions; Basingstoke, Conservative)
We have put in place £8 million to guarantee tailored support for up to 18 months for every single disabled person affected by the announcement today. That includes a personal case worker to help individuals with their future choices, and access to a personal budget for additional support. We are using the expertise of Remploy employment services, which, despite the difficult economic times that we are in, has, over the last two years, found jobs for 35,000 disabled and disadvantaged people, many with similar disabilities to those that people working in Remploy factories have. We are also working with the Employers Forum on Disability to offer targeted work opportunities for disabled people through “first shot”, including guaranteed interviews, job trials, work experience and training. We have set up a community support fund to provide grants to local voluntary sector and user-led organisations, and we have protected the budget for specialist disability employment services, which is £320 million, on average, for every year of the spending review period. What is more, we have added to that: we have added £15 million specifically to Access to Work, which means that 8,000 more disabled people can be supported into work as a result of today’s announcement.
This is an ongoing process that will continue over the summer recess. I commit to keeping right hon. and hon. Members updated on the status of the business plans that are going through to the next stage. I will provide a further update on progress when the House returns in September.
Our approach has been led by disabled people and disabled people’s organisations. Many of them have welcomed the move to end the pre-war practice of employment segregation, and it should be welcomed in all parts of the House and by all hon. Members who believe in equality for disabled people. By spending these protected Government funds more effectively, we can support thousands more of our constituents into work. What is more, we can spend the money in a way that fits the needs and aspirations of disabled people in the 21st century, promoting disability equality and supporting disabled people to lead full and independent lives.
Anne McGuire (Stirling, Labour)
I thank the Minister for advance warning of her statement and indeed an advance copy of it.
I am somewhat surprised, however, that the Minister failed to identify the factories where there are no agreed business plans. With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, I shall quickly run through them: Acton, Ashington, Barking, Birkenhead, Bolton, Cleator Moor, Gateshead, Leeds, Leicester, Manchester, Newcastle, North London, North Staffs, Oldham, Penzance, Pontefract, Preston, Southampton, Spennymoor, Wigan, Worksop and Boston Spa; in Scotland, Wishaw; and in Wales, Aberdare, Abertillery, Merthyr Tydfill, Swansea and Wrexham. Other staff at risk include modernisation staff. It is disappointing that the Minister did not put that on the record.
May I try to lay to rest the issue of segregated employment? As the Minister and many others in the House are aware, there are strong views about so-called segregated employment, but many people who work in Remploy factories, and in other supported businesses throughout the UK, do not see themselves as segregated. They see themselves as exercising the same choice as non-disabled people have when they choose employment. We need to get away from the split between segregated and so-called non-segregated employment. I hope that the Minister will take that on board.
May I ask the Minister one or two questions about her statement? Why does she continue to declare that she is implementing the Sayce review, when Liz Sayce stated:
“Employees and management of Enterprise Businesses should be given a sufficient window (for instance, six months) to put forward a business plan to this expert panel setting out how the business will become viable without Government subsidy”?
That refers to six months. What we have had is a 90-day window to implement a closure programme. I am astonished that the Minister continues to use Liz Sayce’s report as some sort of human shield to disguise what she is doing.
The scale of the closures announced today vincidates Liz Sayce’s view that if only nine factories have been able to put together a business proposal in that 90 days, her six-month window would have given a far greater opportunity to some of the other factories to access such business expertise. The Minister made great play
of the £10,000 for business advice for employee-led bids. Those involved would be hard pushed to get business consultancies for £10,000 to put together a business plan for some of the factories.
The time frame for closure does not take into account the challenge of winding up businesses and supporting people, many of whom have complex disabilities. Why has the Minister also decided to renege on the agreement made with those in the so-called modernisation group? There was an agreement with former employees that was supported in all parts of the House when the modernisation programme was announced, and many will be disappointed, if not surprised, that what was supported in opposition has been abandoned in government.
Will the Minister clarify the position as regards the Remploy pension scheme and how the Government will honour their responsibilities to that scheme? Given that the Government’s Work programme is missing its target for disabled workers by 75%, what new support is the Minister putting in place to support Remploy workers who will lose their jobs?
Frankly, there are times when I wonder whether the Secretary of State understands any of Remploy’s arguments as he sits and sniggers when he is not making disparaging comments about disabled workers.
Can the Minister distance herself from the harsh economic climate in which we find ourselves? Even if she is minded to make this decision, doing so in the current economic climate makes it look as if she is abandoning her duty of care to disabled employees who have given many years of service to a company that the Government own—a company that this country owns.
The Minister mentioned the Access to Work programme. She might wish to remind the House that Access to Work numbers are plummeting under this Government—[ Interruption. ] Well, the DWP figures seem to indicate that the Access to Work uptake has not been as good as she sometimes indicates to the House. In 2007, when my right hon. Friend Mr Hain announced the modernisation programme, the now Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, Chris Grayling, said:
“Let me assure Remploy and its employees that the next Conservative Government will continue the process of identifying additional potential procurement opportunities for them and the public sector work force.”—[Official Report,
Finally, there is a programme that the Government have paraded around, telling us how wonderful it is: the regional growth fund. The National Audit Office has said that jobs created by the regional growth fund cost the taxpayer between £4,000 and £200,000. It has also said that 90% of the jobs could have been delivered at a cost of £26,000 a job, which is slightly more than the subsidy for Remploy workers and those losing their jobs today.
I do not disagree with the Minister that this is a difficult decision—many Opposition Members have been through some of these issues before—but I charge her, in a situation in which tens of people are chasing every
job in some of the constituencies where Remploy factories are closing, with having abrogated her responsibility to disabled workers who have given a lifetime of service to Remploy.
The right hon. Lady has very strong views on this matter, but perhaps I could ask her to consider the views of disabled people. Let me bring to the House’s attention a quote from Disability Wales, an organisation whose views many hon. Members on both sides of the House might value:
“Disability Wales… does not see Remploy as either progressive or forward thinking in their approaches to service provision. Although they may once have been seen as providing opportunities for disabled people, they are now standing in the way of full integration and indirectly hampering individuals’ chances of progression.”
I am afraid that that is what the people of Wales feel, and that reflects what many other organisations that represent disabled people in this country feel.
The right hon. Lady talked about the important issue of jobs, but I really wish that she would check her facts before coming to the House. If she were to do so, she would see that Access to Work is actually spending more money than ever before in supporting disabled people across the country. Yes, there is more that we can do, and that we are doing, because what we inherited was what Liz Sayce called the best secret in government. We are going out and marketing Access to Work actively to make sure that more people can use it to get into work. [ Interruption. ] Maria Eagle says from a sedentary position, “You have to get a job”, and she is absolutely right. The individuals affected by today’s announcements live in areas where Remploy’s employment services arm has actually helped 10,500 disabled people into work over the past year alone, and indeed 35,000 over the past two years. She might be happy about having disabled people shut away in segregated factories but I am not, so on that we will have to disagree.
The modernisation plan is four years into its five-year process, and what is clear to us is that at least we are able potentially to take out of Government control some of the factories that have been subject to the initial phase 1 stage, which were judged by our independent advisors not to be financially viable. We still have to look at phase 2 factories—some 18 of them—that are judged to have more chance of financial viability, and I look forward to bringing hon. Members up to date on our progress with that in the summer.
On the pensions scheme, I reassure the right hon. Lady that we will protect in full all the accrued rights of participating members. As to the modernisation group, I also assure her that we are having ongoing conversations about how we can help to ensure that some of the people involved are not affected by redundancy. Perhaps I can talk to her in detail about that at a more appropriate time.
John Bercow (Speaker)
Order. There is extensive interest in this very important subject, but there is also enormous interest in the second day of the Second Reading debate
Nicky Morgan (Loughborough, Conservative)
I welcome the Minister’s statement and, in particular, the emphasis on Access to Work, especially for those with mental health disabilities, in which I am specifically interested. Will she say a little more about how Access to Work is helping those with mental health problems to have fulfilling jobs?
My hon. Friend takes a great interest in the area and will be pleased to know that we are doing more to market Access to Work to people who have learning disabilities or mental health problems. Access to Work is an excellent scheme, but even more people with mental health problems need to participate in it, and we have an active marketing programme behind achieving that.
Peter Hain (Neath, Labour)
Has the hon. Lady any idea how arrogant and out of touch she sounds this afternoon? This is a shameless betrayal of thousands of disabled workers who have been in sheltered employment—not segregated employment, but sheltered employment—all their lives and will never find jobs when there are no jobs to be had in areas such as mine, where 10 people are chasing every job vacancy. How can she so cynically misrepresent the modernisation plan that I announced at the end of 2007—£555 million, dependent on Government-supported procurement and public sector-backed job opportunities? None of that has been put in place. It has not failed; it has not been allowed to succeed by this out-of-touch Government.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for coming in for today’s statement and for being able to participate in the statement process, because he more than anybody knows the very real dilemma that was faced under the previous Administration with Remploy, and I pay tribute to the work that he did to try to give Remploy an opportunity to get back on its feet. He will know that there are more than 12,000 disabled people in his constituency, and the Neath furniture factory will continue through the summer process, which I am sure he welcomes. I hope that he would want to ensure that more of those 12,000 people receive the sort of support that I know he feels can work.
Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne, Liberal Democrat)
Will the Minister, for absolute clarity, confirm two things: first, that every single penny spent will go to help disabled people into mainstream employment; and, secondly, that it will be in addition to any money provided by the Work programme also to help disabled people into employment?
I am pleased to confirm to my hon. Friend that we have a £320 million protected budget; that as we move forward, I want to see all that money supporting people into mainstream employment—into all the same jobs that any of us would want to take up outside this place; and that this money is in addition to any finances that are available for the Work programme.
Ian Lucas (Wrexham, Labour)
For the last 16 Saturday mornings, Remploy workers in Wrexham have been out campaigning to keep their factory open. I cannot explain
why the private sector bid in connection with the factory has been rejected. If the Minister believes in the policy, will she come and meet the Wrexham Remploy workers and explain it? She should be ashamed of the statement that she has made today, and to say that the people of Wales support it is a lie.
I very much admire the vigorous way in which the hon. Gentleman has supported his local factory. Having met him and spoken to him at great length, I know that he is simply trying to stand up for his constituents, and I respect that. I have to say to him, though, that the bid that was put forward on that factory has been considered by commercial experts. I am not a commercial expert. Remploy directors and an independent board have been looking at the bid, so it would not be appropriate for me to discuss it with his constituents. I gently remind him that while we have here a difficult decision for the 40 people who work at the Wrexham factory, he must also consider the 7,400 disabled people who live in his constituency and who will benefit greatly from the way in which we are taking this programme forward.
Conor Burns (Bournemouth West, Conservative)
Will the Minister join me in wishing Giles Verdon and his team at the Alder Hills Remploy site in my constituency well as they develop their business plan to move from being a state enterprise to a social private enterprise? Without asking her to enter into an open-ended commitment, may I ask her whether there would be any flexibility if some of these sites need a little more time than has been set out today?
Of course, I echo the comments that my hon. Friend has made. With regard to the timing of the next stage of this process, it is very important that we use the time that we have available. To confirm and clarify the timing of the bids process, it will have been some five and a half months for those going through to the second stage of the bid round. We will take the time that is needed to make sure that bidders get the information that they need and access to the support that is there for them to make sure that as many of the bids as possible are as successful as they can be.
Ian Lavery (Wansbeck, Labour)
Thousands of disabled people will be heading home tonight certain of one thing, and that is a lifetime of unemployment. What advice would the Minister give to those individuals and their families with regard to employment in future? Is she not absolutely ashamed that this despicable, cruel act has happened on her watch?
I can absolutely understand that hon. Members are speaking with a great deal of passion, because this is a very important issue that affects some
of the most vulnerable people in our constituencies. However, I gently remind the hon. Gentleman that if we are truly going to be people who stick up for disability equality and for disabled people in this country, who number some 6.9 million, then these are the changes that we need to make and that disabled people and disabled people’s organisations have called for. The previous Government were fully aware of that. The modernisation plan has not done what was required, and we are now taking that money and making it work harder for disabled people.
Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford, Conservative)
Royal British Legion Industries, which is based in Aylesford, employs many disabled people in its factories. We must be very mindful in this place that whenever politicians make an announcement about disability employment, it can be incredibly frightening. Will the Minister therefore reassure my constituents that this Government will do all they can to continue to provide good-quality employment for disabled people?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to remind us all that what we say here can cause a great deal of fear and concern among the people we represent. Therefore, at all points in time, we should stick to the facts. In this case, the facts are that the £220 million budget for specialist employment support is being protected and that today’s announcement will mean that more than 8,000 extra disabled people will be able to be supported. She speaks with a great deal of knowledge in this respect. The organisation that she mentions has also been involved in the Work programme, which is also there to support disabled people.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley, Labour)
When Margaret Thatcher was Schools Secretary she was known as “Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher”. You, Minister, are now known as “Maria Miller, Remploy Killer”. Are you proud of that?
I am sorry, but that is exactly the sort of statement that this House should not look kindly on. The right hon. Lady knows, because she has been in this place for a lot longer than I, that we should choose our words carefully in this place because people listen carefully to what we say. The 13,600 disabled people in her constituency will be asking why she is not more supportive of a Government who are ensuring that there is £15 million extra to support them, as well as ensuring that the 37 people in the factory in her constituency receive the support that they need to go forward into mainstream employment.
Tony Baldry (Second Church Estates Commissioner; Banbury, Conservative)
Surely the test is what support we can all give to disabled people to help them get back into the world of work, irrespective of where they live. As far as I am aware, there is not and never has been a Remploy facility in Oxfordshire or anywhere in the Thames valley. Will my hon. Friend confirm that she will do everything she can to ensure that the Access to Work programme gains the maximum possible synergy with the many work clubs and job clubs up and down the country, so that any disabled person who goes to such a club will know about the programme and how to get into it?
I commend my hon. Friend for taking the kind of attitude that other hon. Members should take on this issue. He rightly points out that many parts of this country, not least as a result of the actions of Mr Hain, do not have access to a Remploy factory. We need to ensure that no postcode lottery appears. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be pleased to know that in the south-east—I think his constituency will fall into this area—almost 4,000 people have been helped through the Access to Work programme already, with some £10 million of expenditure. Through the measures that I have announced today, we will ensure that more people are helped.
Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw, Labour)
Shamefully, the Minister did not even take the time to read out the list of the closed factories. Had she done so, she would have noticed that the list includes Motherwell Remploy, which has not existed for 11 years. How is that dealing with fact?
The hon. Gentleman will know that a list of the factories that are affected is attached to copies of the statement. I am sure that Mr Speaker, who I know wants to make progress, would not have thought that reading out a list of factories was the right thing to do.
Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys, Conservative)
Does the Minister agree that young disabled people have higher aspirations than to spend 40 years of their working lives in segregated employment, shut off from society, being sheltered—what a ghastly, offensive phrase that is. Segregated employment has no role in today’s society. What we want is equality of employment rights.
John Bercow (Speaker)
I appreciate the Minister’s courtesy. What she says is, of course, a matter for her. I should just make it clear to the House and to those attending to our proceedings that the content of the statement is entirely a matter for the Minister. Whether she chooses to provide a list or not is her prerogative. I respect the sincerity with which she addressed the House.
Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South, Labour)
Last year, many of my constituents, in their supported environment at North Staffs Remploy, put in for voluntary redundancy because they could see the writing on the wall. They were turned down because, it was said, they were key workers. They now find that they will get just statutory redundancy, rather than the enhanced money that was available last year. Does the Minister think that that is fair and right? Perhaps she would like to come to my Remploy and talk to the workers, such as Steve and others, who will have night after night of sleepless nights because there are no jobs for them in Stoke-on-Trent. They will not be able to sleep at night—will she?
Again, I understand the strength of feeling; the hon. Gentleman is trying to ensure that the people in his constituency are supported in the way that they need to be. I gently remind him that the estimated average redundancy of somebody in a Remploy factory will be about £19,000, which is more than double the average that would be received under the statutory
scheme. It is important that people get the right level of support, so we are making £8 million available to support individuals into mainstream employment.
The hon. Gentleman asks what jobs are available. I remind him of the many hundreds of jobs that the employment services have found for disabled people in his constituency.
Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire, Conservative)
When the Select Committee looked into Remploy, we took evidence from union bosses who had enlisted some of the people in the factories. Does the Minister think they have helped the difficult situation by giving leaflets to employees saying, “If you lose your job, you will lose your humanity”?
I commend the work of the Select Committee in highlighting that. I agree that it is unfortunate, but I do not know whether it is surprising. It is certainly saddening to hear of a trade union taking such action. I have to say, I have had a number of constructive meetings with the unions over recent months. I would point out also that it is estimated that as a result of our redirecting funding to Access to Work, an additional £200 million of value will be realised from the specialist disability employment programme. Perhaps the Committee might want to examine that.
Alan Meale (Mansfield, Labour)
What consideration has the Minister given to the role of the specialist training colleges? Will she guarantee to support them so that they might endeavour to help clear up the current situation and help people who need support?
I confirm that I met the specialist disability training colleges some three weeks ago and have further extended the contracts available to them to provide specialist support. They will have an important role, and we are working with them to ensure that we define that role carefully so that it meets the needs of disabled people.
Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton, Conservative)
Those working in the Remploy factory in Acton will obviously be disappointed by today’s news. Can my hon. Friend provide some reassurance that they will get full support as they lose their jobs, and will she give us some details of the timetable for that support?
Both the Secretary of State and I have visited the Acton factory in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and I know that this will be a difficult time for the 31 people who work there. I can confirm that we are already ensuring that a tailored package of support is in place for each individual who is affected. It is important, however, to acknowledge that that factory, like the others that we are discussing, has sizeable operating losses—more than £700,000-worth last year. I am sure she will agree that we could use that money better to support more disabled people into work.
Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East, Labour)
Does the Minister not appreciate that she is effectively setting off one group of disabled people against another? Surely it is not necessary to have some people lose the jobs that
have given them so much in their lives in order to help other disabled people. We should think of much better ways of doing that.
I simply do not accept the hon. Lady’s premise. Through the work that we are doing today, we will support thousands more disabled people into work. If she were to examine the consultation responses that we received, she would see that the overwhelming majority of disabled people and disabled people’s organisations thoroughly support our measures.
David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford, Conservative)
I strongly support my hon. Friend’s statement. Is it not the case that for every person working in a Remploy factory, we could support eight disabled people to take up and retain a mainstream job for the same amount of money? Surely that is the right way forward.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In these difficult economic times, we have to ensure that the protected £320 million works better for disabled people in this country.
Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East, Labour)
This is a sad day for the staff at Wythenshawe Remploy, who have fought hard for the past five years to keep their factory open. They have become more efficient and increased their sales. My deep regret is that the Minister has failed to identify the £250,000 of additional print work that would have enabled that factory to break even and stay in business. How will she track the 1,421 people whom she is making redundant today, and will she commit to making a monthly report to Parliament about how many of them find alternative employment?
I had a meeting with the right hon. Gentleman and I know that he comes to the debate with genuine concern about his constituents. He will know that the financial situation of the factory in Wythenshawe was such that it was not possible for a valid financial case to be made even with the sort of extra business he mentioned—there were operating losses of more than £300,000 and 19 disabled people employed in the factory.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, however, that this will be unlike the previous round of redundancies, under which there was insufficient tracking in place. When it came to it, we simply did not know how many people moved into employment, although we know that many affected by the previous round retired. We have learned from that mistake. With the permission of the people affected, we will put in place a comprehensive system of tracking. I will undertake to ensure that hon. Members get appropriately regular updates on progress.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington, Liberal Democrat)
For Government plans to provide and retain employment opportunities for people with disabilities to succeed, benefits will need to be flexible. We will also need to recognise that costs for people with disabilities can go up as their independence increases, and that costs vary according to the technological support they need. Will the Minister guarantee that benefits will be flexible in that way?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that disabled people have extra costs of living and extra costs for working. We are committed to reforming the disability living allowance into the personal independence payment, to ensure that we continue to recognise those costs, but in a more targeted way. We are also putting £15 million extra into Access to Work to provide the sort of flexibility he describes.
Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan, Scottish National Party)
I have a number of concerns about the bidding process for the Remploy sites under threat of closure, but will the Minister confirm that the assessment panel was given only three days over a weekend to consider all 65 bids? Does she consider that extraordinarily short time scale to be sufficient for proper scrutiny of those bids?
What I know is that proper scrutiny has taken place, and that we need to ensure the programme makes good progress so that we can ensure that the people affected are informed in a timely manner.
Lee Scott (Ilford North, Conservative)
Does my hon. Friend agree that getting young people with special needs into work in front-line jobs is vital? Will she join me in congratulating another employer that yesterday came on board with the project to get young people into work in my area?
I am glad to commend my hon. Friend’s work and I am looking forward to visiting the project in his constituency. He highlights the importance of supporting young disabled people into employment. I was pleased in the past couple of weeks to announce that Access to Work will also be available in future to young people undertaking work experience.
Toby Perkins (Chesterfield, Labour)
Workers at the Remploy factory in Chesterfield will be relieved to know that there is a glimmer of light—the site is one of those invited to make a bid. On that note, will bids be accepted from organisations that no longer have a policy of disabled people first? Will disabled people still be prioritised in bids from such organisations?
In evaluating the bids that will be taken forward, our first priority is to ensure that the bids that protect most jobs for most disabled people are given priority.
Bob Stewart (Beckenham, Conservative)
Will the Minister reassure me that personal caseworkers will have the resources to tailor a place of work when assisting a disabled person to find work, so that they help the person as much as possible? Will she also assure me that those resources will be available at the point of delivery?
My hon. Friend is right to focus on the support package we are putting in place to ensure that people affected by today’s announcement get all the help they need to get into mainstream employment. That will be in the form of both a personal budget, which can give the flexibility to ensure that training is put in place for individuals, and access to any of the
mainstream programmes that the Government run, including Work Choice, the Work programme and Access to Work.
Chris Evans (Islwyn, Labour)
The union convener at Croespenmaen Remploy factory, Ian Lloyd, has been told that Croespenmaen might have a buyer but will not find out until September. As the Minister might be aware, this gives the workers there some hope. Will she guarantee, first, that they are not being led up the garden path and, secondly, that they will have all the support in place at the moment?
I was pleased to have a meeting with the hon. Gentleman, who has been a doughty advocate for his factory and constituency, and obviously it is good that we will be moving forward with the bid. We will work hard to do everything we can to make bids successful, but obviously they have to be commercially viable and provide jobs for disabled people. Those are our priorities.
Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry, Conservative)
My apologies, Mr Speaker, for the tiny burst of excitement earlier.
Will my hon. Friend remind me how many factories were closed down by the last Labour Government and what support package they put in place to help workers made redundant in 2008?
My hon. Friend will know that 29 factories were closed under the previous Administration, and it was an error not to put more support in place for people affected. I am sure, if Labour did it again, it would do things differently, because it became apparent very early on that, of the 1,611 disabled people who left factories as a result of the modernisation redundancy programme, very few got into work. However, given the package that we have put in place today and the record of Remploy employment services over the past two years—they have helped 35,000 disabled people to get into work—we are living under a very different set of arrangements.
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington, Labour)
The Minister referred to this as a difficult decision, but for the Remploy workers watching this debate it is a tragic decision. She has just mentioned the numbers who left work last time who have never been employed since. How many can she guarantee will be in secure employment in 12 months’ time?
I can guarantee that by using the money differently we can help more disabled people into work. As a result of today’s measure, some 8,000 disabled people can get into work who would not have had that support otherwise.
Andrew George (St Ives, Liberal Democrat)
The Penzance Remploy factory in my constituency has contributed not to segregation but to an integrated spectrum of employment opportunities for disabled people, and today’s news will come as a bitter disappointment, especially in view of the fact that it has worked tirelessly with the local college and the Brandon Trust to find an alternative model. I do not know whether the Minister indicated that the door was still open on some of those listed among the 27 today,
but would she be prepared to meet me and representatives from my constituency to explore alternatives to today’s announcement?
My hon. Friend obviously speaks up strongly for the Penzance factory, which employs 32 disabled people, but the problem is that in employing them the factory runs an operating loss of more than £700,000 a year. It is unfortunately difficult to resolve that situation and achieve financial stability, however, and, although I am always available to meet him, I am not sure how satisfactory the outcome of such a meeting would be for him.
Jim McGovern (Dundee West, Labour)
I have visited the Remploy factory in my constituency so often that I am almost on first-name terms with most of the work force, and I can assure the Minister that they do not regard themselves as a segregated work force. There seem to be two lists—one of factories with no agreed business plan and one of those inviting bids—but Dundee’s factory does not appear on either. What does the future hold for the Remploy factory in Dundee?
The Remploy factory in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency will be taken forward; I am not sure why that is not on his list.
Frank Doran (Aberdeen North, Labour)
Our thoughts today must be with the 1,400 Remploy workers losing their jobs and facing probably a lifetime of redundancy. Of course, I am delighted that my factory in Aberdeen is going forward, which is a tribute to staff and management at the Aberdeen factory. It has been achieved, however, in spite of Remploy management’s failure to provide any useful information that would have allowed for any financial planning or even to talk about taking forward social enterprises. I hope that the Minister will ensure that in the second phase these things will be a key part of the process.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. As for the factory in his constituency, I spoke to the Scottish Government this morning. They are keen to try to continue with their support, as they have been working with us throughout the process. We will of course take forward any lessons from the first stage of factories into the second stage, but I think the process has been handled well and thoughtfully, and with the right level of professionalism.
Pat Glass (North West Durham, Labour)
The Spennymoor Remploy factory is not in my constituency, but it is just a mile over the border and it employs severely disabled people from the Crook and Willington area of my constituency. Is the Minister seriously telling me that severely disabled people—three members of the same family in one case—will get alternative employment in a constituency where unemployment has more than doubled since this Government came to power?
The hon. Lady obviously wants to ensure that people in her constituency are well provided for, and I hope that she will be reassured by the comments I have made today about the employee support plan and the £8 million that the Government have put in place. Spennymoor is not in her constituency, but she
will know that in the constituency of Bishop Auckland, where it is located, there are more than 13,000 disabled people, compared with the 40 disabled people who work in the factory. We have to work together to ensure that more disabled people are supported into work. We know that more than 500 disabled people in the area were supported into mainstream work by Remploy employment services in the last year alone. The jobs are there if people get the right support.
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith, Labour)
The Edinburgh Remploy plant employs a number of people in my constituency. Obviously I am pleased that it is one for which bids are to be invited in the next stage of the process. Can the Minister give an indication of the time scale by which the process is to be completed, so that people can have some certainty about whether they will be in continued employment?
To reiterate what I said earlier, through the summer process the bids being taken forward will be able to gather more of the detailed, commercially-sensitive information that they require to be able to make a full and final offer. That process will be completed around the beginning of September, and I would of course be happy to keep hon. Members updated if they have an interest outside their constituencies.
Clive Betts (Sheffield South East, Labour)
The Remploy workers in the factory in my constituency in Sheffield are unanimous that they want to keep their factory open. With her use of terms such as “segregated employment”, the Minister gives the impression that her ultimate objective is the closure of all Remploy factories. What reassurance can she give to the workers in Sheffield that their factory is safe in her hands?
I say to both the hon. Gentleman and the Remploy workers in his constituency that we are taking forward the Sayce recommendations. She said clearly that the factories should be set free of Government control. That is the process that we are working on at the moment. I hope that the hon. Gentleman would want to ensure that the 17,500 disabled people in his constituency get more help and support. Let me also remind him that Remploy employment services has done an outstanding job in his constituency, helping more than 1,300 disabled people into mainstream jobs—just the sort of jobs that disabled people would like more of, as they are telling us clearly.
John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness, Labour)
We are obviously hoping to secure a successful bid in Barrow. However, further to the questions from my hon. Friends, and after the alarmingly pejorative tone in which the Minister has described workers being “shut away” by Remploy, will she be requiring any successful bids to target future opportunities specifically at disabled people?
The hon. Gentleman has misread my tone. I can absolutely tell him that I am working very much with disabled people on the programme that we
are putting forward today. It is led by disabled people, and the plan that we are following is very much led by the recommendations in the Sayce report. It is good news that we are able to do further work on the bid for the hon. Gentleman’s factory, and I hope that he will perhaps be able to support the factory in that. However, the broader reform that we are talking about will do much more to help the 12,000 disabled people in his constituency.
William Bain (Glasgow North East, Labour)
I can assure the Minister that people in my constituency and throughout Scotland will be standing shoulder to shoulder with the workers and those campaigning to keep all 36 Remploy factories open. Given that she is prepared to consider bids for the Springburn factory in my constituency, will she give a guarantee to the 46 workers there that there will be no compulsory redundancies if the factory is sold?
The terms of the bid that is progressing in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency are being dealt with by the commercial directorate of Remploy, so I cannot comment on that point. I would, however, again draw the House’s attention to the words of Mr Hain, who is no longer in his place. He has stated:
“The reality is that without modernisation Remploy deficits would obliterate our other programmes to help disabled people into mainstream work.”—[Official Report,
Is that really what Mr Bain wants to see? I do not think so.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda, Labour)
The vast majority of disabled people who are in work in my constituency work in mainstream jobs. They are delighted to do so, and I am delighted that they are doing so. However, Remploy in Porth plays a significant role for quite a lot of people, and the workers there are doing valuable jobs, including recycling information technology equipment and wiping hard drives, which might have been useful for News International at one point. If the Government were prepared to ensure that all Government Departments put their IT recycling through Remploy in Porth, the factory’s future would be guaranteed. Porth is not on either of her lists, however. What is going to happen to Porth?
The hon. Gentleman knows that the 130% increase in public sector procurement that was included in the modernisation plan was simply unachievable. Having visited the Porth factory and met the workers there, I know how important it is to his community, but I would also remind him that the 71 people in that factory are only a few of the more than 12,000 disabled people in his constituency.