Supported Employment Workplaces

– in the Scottish Parliament at 9:15 am on 7th October 2010.

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Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None 9:15 am, 7th October 2010

Good morning. The first item of business today is a debate on motion S3M-7157, in the name of Lewis Macdonald, on the future of Scotland's supported employment workplaces.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

Supported employment provides more than 800 jobs in more than 20 businesses throughout Scotland. Those jobs are especially valuable because they give access to work to hundreds of disabled people who would otherwise be at high risk of exclusion from the labour market.

Only this week, new evidence from the Royal National Institute of Blind People and Skills Development Scotland identified the barriers to employment for people who are blind or partially sighted. As John Legg, the director of RNIB Scotland pointed out, blind or partially sighted people are doing all sorts of jobs in Scotland—from schoolteacher to physiotherapist to astrophysicist. However, on average, people with such a disability are 15 times more likely to be unemployed.

That is why the jobs that are provided by Blindcraft in Edinburgh, by Glencraft in Aberdeen and by Remploy in Fife and other places around the country are so important. If there were no supported employment, the alternative for many workers would be unemployment. That would be no less expensive for the public purse and far less fulfilling for the people involved and their families.

I am delighted that staff from supported businesses throughout Scotland will be with us in the Parliament today. It is important that they and others should understand that supported employment is held in high regard by members of all parties.

There is broad recognition of the reality that people in such businesses face. If supported workplaces were forced out of business or forced to lay off their disabled staff, many workers would not move into other jobs and would cease to be economically active. They would stop bringing home a fair day's wage for a fair day's work and they would come to feel that they were a burden, rather than an example to other people. That is why we welcome the Scottish Government's policy of promoting public sector procurement of goods and services from supported businesses and brought this debate to urge ministers to turn words into action in the public bodies in Scotland for which they are responsible.

The reality is that the future remains uncertain for supported businesses and their staff. There has been policy support from successive Governments at Holyrood and Westminster and there have been highly effective campaigns by staff and their trade unions to secure emergency intervention from ministers when intervention was needed most. However, the threat to the future of supported employment has not gone away.

My first parliamentary question to Jim Mather as Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism, back in 2007, was sparked by concerns about the future of Remploy workshops in Aberdeen and elsewhere. Our most recent parliamentary debate on supported employment took place earlier this year, when my colleague Richard Baker secured a members' business debate after Glencraft in Aberdeen had gone into administration in November 2009.

I am delighted that Remploy in Aberdeen and a new Glencraft are still in business. Anne McGuire MP, the then Minister for Disabled People, and Alex Salmond, the First Minister, paid heed to representations and responded positively. Bob Keiller and Duncan Skinner of Production Services Network were willing to back a Glencraft 2, and their continuing engagement is a credit to them and to the wider business community in and around Aberdeen, whose support has been critical to Glencraft's rebirth during the past six months.

The threat to Glencraft prompted the previous debate on supported employment; the threat to Blindcraft here in Edinburgh provides the context for today's debate. As happened at Glencraft last year, dozens of disabled people at Blindcraft face the threat of redundancy and the prospect of unemployment. Once again, the threat comes from a city council that supported the workshop in question in previous generations but now thinks that the public subsidy of supported employment is no longer affordable. As was the case last year, the trade union representatives of the affected workers are campaigning to save jobs and are asking for our support.

The Blindcraft workers deserve our support. I hope that the City of Edinburgh Council will have a change of heart—as Aberdeen City Council eventually did, after PSN, Scottish Enterprise and the business community got involved at Glencraft—and decide that funding a supported employer is money well spent. However, simply to continue a subsidy is not enough.

When I and other members expressed concerns about Remploy to Mr Mather three years ago, he made the obvious point that ministerial responsibility for the enterprise lay not with him but with ministers elsewhere. However, he was quick to accept the point that we made, which was that the Scottish ministers can make a difference by directing public procurement policy in a way that is helpful to supported employment providers.

Disabled workers and their unions are not looking for handouts from Governments, councils or anyone else. What they want is the opportunity to do a fair day's work for a fair day's pay and to go home with the satisfaction of knowing that they have earned every penny and made a useful contribution to the wider community. That is what this debate is all about.

Ministers responded positively on the issue of public procurement. Jim Mather was good enough to invite me to attend one of the stakeholders meetings that were set up to take the issue forward. I welcomed his invitation.

The means of promoting supported employment are ready to hand. Under article 19 of European Union directive 2004/18/EC, on the co-ordination of procedures for the award of public works contracts, public supply contracts and public service contracts,

"Member States may reserve the right to participate in public contract award procedures to sheltered workshops or provide for such contracts to be performed in the context of sheltered employment programmes".

All that is required to reserve a contract is that most of the employees concerned are disabled people who

"by reason of the nature or the seriousness of their disabilities, cannot carry on occupations under normal conditions", and that contracts of significant size should be open to tenders from supported employment providers throughout the EU.

Photo of Gavin Brown Gavin Brown Conservative

The motion in the member's name is excellent. Does he have a view on what the timetable for article 19 contracts ought to look like?

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

It needs to look like delivery in a measured period. Ministers can set a timetable that gives an indication of their commitment. It is for ministers to say what bodies that are under their direct authority can achieve, but I hope that we are talking about months rather than years.

All of article 19 of the public procurement directive was given legal force by the previous Scottish Executive, under the Public Contracts (Scotland) Regulations 2006. A policy position whereby public bodies are urged to reserve contracts to supported employment providers was therefore a straightforward one for the current Scottish Government to take, and it built on decisions that had already been taken in Scotland, at Westminster and in Brussels. Ministers adopted the position, as we acknowledge in the motion. In a response to my colleague John Park in March this year, John Swinney confirmed what he had said in a written answer to a parliamentary question:

"It is Scottish Government policy that every public body should aim to have at least one contract with a supported factory or business."—[Official Report, Written Answers, 24 April 2009; S3W-22484.]

The policy is supported by parties across the Parliament.

The issue is not whether the policy is right but whether it is producing results, and the evidence so far is that results are few and far between. Last week, we followed up parliamentary questions by asking the Scottish Parliament information centre whether any public body in Scotland had reserved a contract under article 19 in the three years since the Scottish ministers issued the guidance note, "Social Issues in Public Procurement".

It is fair to say that SPICe found it difficult to get a clear and consistent answer from civil servants to that straightforward question. Perhaps the minister will say on the record today whether the award of a contract to Capability Scotland by Marine Scotland followed the reservation of the contract under article 19. Whatever the minister says about that, the number of reserved contracts is either none or one. That means that all, or all but one, of the public bodies for which ministers are responsible have yet to deliver on the policy objective that they have been set by awarding at least one contract to a supported factory or business.

Public bodies have been told that they should use article 19. John Swinney has told them, and Jim Mather has told them. Indeed, in his foreword to the Scottish procurement directorate's new publication, "Supported Businesses in Scotland: Creating value in a socially responsible way", Mr Mather urged public bodies not to settle for just one contract per agency but to

"make the maximum possible use of reserved contracts for supported factories and businesses".

It is good to encourage businesses and it was good to produce a list of supported businesses, to point public bodies in the right direction. It is also good to hold events that get all the relevant people into a room at one time to discuss the subject—I am sure that Jim Mather has facilitated such events. However, there comes a time when talking is not enough and things must start to happen.

When Iain Gray visited Blindcraft in Glasgow a few months ago he called on the Scottish Government to appoint a dedicated champion for disabled workers. We reiterate that call today. We want there to be someone whose job is to turn encouragement into action and get contracts reserved and orders placed.

We go further today because we believe that the need for action is all the more urgent. We would like the Scottish Government not only to appoint a disabled workers champion but to set a timetable for every public body for which it is responsible to reserve at least one contract under article 19 of the EU public procurement directive and regulation 7 of the Public Contracts (Scotland) Regulations 2006.

If ministers agree today to set a timetable, we believe that the logjam will be broken. An open-ended aspiration is easy to postpone. An objective that must be achieved by a set date is a different matter, and there is nothing like a ministerial ultimatum to concentrate a chief executive's mind. The Government should set a challenging timetable, and results will follow.

Some very imaginative and creative things are happening in the supported employment sector. For example, Remploy in Aberdeen, in my constituency, has moved from a traditional workshop model to become a hub for social enterprises—some on and some off the existing factory site. Remploy in Leven has developed a specialism in offshore and marine clothing and equipment. Other supported employers have made specialist provision in relation to Ministry of Defence requirements and other specialist areas. Glencraft and other bodies of that type have been doing a lot of work to win contracts from the private sector—a move that is essential to the mixed economy of successful supported employment.

Significantly, those agencies are doing a lot of work to enable disabled workers to move from supported to mainstream employment when they are able to do so. That is right and proper and is the best outcome for many of those disabled workers.

It is important to recognise that supported employment will be required for as long as disabled people want to work, as long as the wider community believes that going to work is a good thing for disabled people to do, and as long as some of those disabled people do not have the skills or physical ability to take part in mainstream employment. If we want a sustainable future for supported employment providers, we cannot rely only on short-term fixes or simple public subsidy. Mainstreaming, where it is possible, will never be able to meet demand. Public procurement is essential to the delivery of some certainty to the sector in the longer term.

If ministers are not able to turn words into action on public procurement, we will again see crises like the crisis at Glencraft last year and the crisis at Blindcraft in Edinburgh this year, with disabled workers fearing for their personal futures and the sector itself in peril. However, if ministers choose to move to the next stage and set a demanding timetable, they can make a difference. Disabled workers want public bodies to reserve contracts under article 19 sooner rather than later. For disabled workers such as those at Blindcraft in Edinburgh, that progress must be made without delay.

I move,

That the Parliament notes the Scottish Government's policy that every public body should aim to have at least one contract with a supported factory or business, as set out in its Social Issues in Public Procurement guidance document in October 2007 and reiterated as part of the Scottish Sustainable Procurement Action Plan in October 2009; welcomes this approach as the most effective means of public policy support for the sector; regrets the lack of evidence that this policy has been effectively pursued over the last three years, and calls on the Scottish Government to set a timetable for every public body in Scotland for which it is responsible to have at least one contract with a supported factory or business.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party 9:28 am, 7th October 2010

The Government welcomes this opportunity to recognise the value of supported workplaces and the contribution that they make to the Government's purpose of creating a successful economy with opportunities for all.

Today I will make clear our appreciation of the value of the sector, set out what we are doing to provide support, and make sure that Parliament gives the sector and its people a tangible boost, allowing disabled people to work, develop, progress and be all that they can be.

We support the development of strong, sustainable business models to enable a healthy future for such organisations and, more important, for the people whom they employ. Our focus is not limited to supported workplaces, although there is no doubt that we value strongly the role that they play. The Scottish Government's supported employment framework shows how we will support disabled people to work across the employment spectrum, thereby increasing the number and range of opportunities and reducing barriers to employment.

Supported workplaces are familiar to us all. They have bolstered the lives of many people with hope and tangible opportunity. However, the world is changing. Some workplaces have moved to a social enterprise model; they are real businesses whose focus is on delivering social outcomes rather than distributing profits to shareholders.

Meanwhile, there are roles for Government in that modernisation. Our record levels of support for social enterprise, including business development, are key to making it happen. The Government harnesses and channels the energy and ideas of people across Scotland, including procurement professionals, local authorities, community planning partnerships, entrepreneurs—social or otherwise—and local communities. About a year ago, we ran a session in Glasgow that saw social enterprise very much under debate.

The Government is perennially conscious of the fact that we must all find ways to support these businesses, and to see that Scotland supports them. Not enough of us have bought products or services from one of Scotland's 24 supported employers.

I am particularly pleased that the motion before us welcomes our approach to using the power of procurement to provide supported employment opportunities. That approach is built on article 19 of the EU public procurement directive.

We need to find new solutions to old problems, and those solutions must find new ways of meeting the needs of our supported workers—a goal that will require all our input and expertise. We are driving the work forward. The Scottish Government has asked public bodies to develop strategies and tangible plans to place business with supported employers, and there are tangible building blocks to help them to do that.

Of course, we have to be careful about setting unilateral objectives and deadlines for others, and we have to be careful about triggering one-off, token compliance.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

We propose timetabling today. What does the minister mean by tangible milestones and markers of progress?

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

We are minded to support timetabling, with the commonsense caveat that we do not want to trigger token compliance. We want individual bodies to take decisions that take account of their business needs and requirements. We want it to be done right, so that the potential of our supported workplaces can be realised. Instead of tokenism, when targets are met but real opportunities are missed and long-term sustainable potential is damaged or lost, we want relationships that develop and are mutually rewarding for all, with a continuing flow in the development of business. Just as in Lewis Macdonald's description of Remploy, we want supported business to evolve into resilient businesses with strong revenue streams that can also change their services in line with what customers want, and what potential new customers might want.

As for article 19, there are things that the Government is doing, and should be doing, to encourage and enable a stronger market for the services of our supported employers. Article 19 allows the beneficial treatment of supported employers in procurement, allowing public bodies to reserve participation in a tendering exercise to organisations where more than 50 per cent of the workforce is disabled. We need to broadcast that today. Article 19 has the potential to provide real value, and we are committed to doing even more to encourage use of that option across the public sector.

Meanwhile, our commitment continues to be about growing the market, while recognising that that will take time. Supported businesses understand that they have to market and sell. Our private and public sectors also need to understand the opportunities that those enterprising businesses provide. The old-fashioned picture of supported employment is changing and our approach also needs to change.

Last month we saw the launch of Specialisterne Scotland, which provides employment for people with autism, affording them the opportunity to use their unique and considerable skills in the world of information technology. In truth, the public sector can buy from supported workplaces, but only if those workplaces provide something that we need to buy. We know that there are examples of good practice out there. Registers of Scotland is already working with the supported employment organisation Haven Products on the provision of temporary staff.

Earlier this week, we circulated Scottish procurement policy note 10/2010, on reserved contracts, to supported employment organisations and to more than 2,000 public sector buyers.

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour

Will the minister give a tangible boost to the workers at Blindcraft in Edinburgh who will be in the Parliament later today? Blindcraft is threatened with closure and the loss of 70 jobs. Will he convene a meeting between himself, the City of Edinburgh Council and other interested parties, to see whether there is any way in which that closure can be averted?

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

I am taken with that proposition, although my time is finite. I am very motivated to do that and will make my best efforts. We have seen the experiences of Remploy and Glencraft in Aberdeen. When we bring people together, things begin to happen. The member has my commitment to do my very best to make that happen.

I draw attention to the fact that we have made enhancements to the public contracts Scotland website, which is our public sector procurement portal. The enhancements allow third sector organisations to register as supported employers and sign up to the suppliers development programme, which helps organisations to be successful suppliers.

As the motion states, it is the Scottish Government's policy that every public body should aim to have

"at least one contract with a supported ... business".

Public contracts Scotland now provides us with the means to make that happen.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

Minister, you have £6 billion of purchasing power. Why has the Scottish Government not used those means to buy uniforms for firemen, policemen and nurses or beds for the hospitals, prisons and university residences? What are you doing? You are doing nothing.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

Speak through the chair in future, please.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

I read this morning Wendy Alexander extolling Donald Dewar's characteristics in debates such as this. I wish that he was with us today.

Public contracts Scotland and the "Scottish Sustainable Procurement Action Plan" provide us with a real means to begin to make progress and get out the message about what is being done.

For example, the Scottish Government uses Capability Scotland's St Judes laundry to provide laundry services to Marine Scotland's fleet and we are exploring opportunities for facility management and the fit-out of the Scottish crime campus at Gartcosh in North Lanarkshire, although members will understand that I cannot go into detail on that. We are also engaged with our design and print contractor on the possibility of subcontracting print work to supported businesses.

In addition, the Scottish procurement directorate has been working to help supported businesses and third sector organisations compete for public sector opportunities. For example, public contracts Scotland will automatically issue an alert to purchasers to highlight that there are supported businesses that are capable of providing the goods or services that they require. It will also report on the number of contracts awarded to supported businesses, along with third sector organisations and other groups. That will be a very important way for us to demonstrate the progress that is being made.

In July, we published "Supported Businesses in Scotland: Creating value in a socially responsible way" with the British Association for Supported Employment. That publication profiles for the first time supported businesses that currently operate in Scotland.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

In the members' business debate in January, which I am sure the minister recalls, I asked him directly whether he would consider reserving contracts in the huge Southern general hospital development. He agreed at that stage to consider every option. Will he confirm whether any contract has been reserved at the Southern general? If not, when will he examine the options so that contracts can be reserved to help supported businesses?

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

I try to be a polymath, but I do not have that detail. We will write to Johann Lamont and tell her what has happened on that.

Later this month, we will use the Procurex Scotland conference to highlight the services and benefits that supported businesses can offer public sector bodies, and we are providing assistance to supported businesses to ensure their attendance at and contribution to the event.

We are taking real, tangible action. Together with our partners throughout the public sector and beyond, we expect to see real progress soon. However, our approach is much broader than article 19. Supported workplaces need to be successful organisations in their own right. They are capable of competing, and are doing so. In 2008-09, Scotland's public sector spent £26.4 million with supported businesses. Clearly, there is scope to increase that through further use of article 19, public contracts Scotland and the new levels of engagement that we are talking about.

We do not rely on article 19 alone. Alongside the opportunity to reserve contracts, community benefit clauses are being used to drive social value from public spending. We can use such clauses to open up opportunities for local organisations to compete and to provide goods and services to Scotland's public sector. In addition, under such clauses, contractors have committed to provide more than 2,000 targeted recruitment and training opportunities in public contracts.

Public benefit clauses also provide opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises and social enterprises. For example, the well-named Unity Enterprise—a social enterprise that provides opportunities for disadvantaged and disabled young people and adults—has been awarded the on-site catering contract for the construction of the national indoor sports arena and the velodrome for the Commonwealth games.

There are good examples of article 19's use in Scotland and elsewhere. We know that there is more to do and we shall do it in partnership with others, including the Parliament. We have a range of tools in our kitbag to ensure that that happens and we accept that article 19 is an important lever. We are determined to make it work harder for our supported business.

I call on the Parliament to recognise that progress requires us all to collaborate to help supported workplaces to evolve into the most resilient businesses that they can be, to open up markets and to bring supported workplaces to the centre of the push for social enterprise.

I move amendment S3M-7157.2, to insert at end:

", and notes the recognition given to sustainability in the procurement reform programme and in particular the progress on community benefit clauses."

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

We have a little bit of time in hand and I am happy to offer members a minute extra to the time that they have been advised that they have.

Photo of Gavin Brown Gavin Brown Conservative 9:39 am, 7th October 2010

The Labour Party has brought an extremely important issue to the Parliament. It has a well-drafted and intelligent motion and the tone taken by its opening speaker, at least, was absolutely appropriate and constructive. The amendment in Jim Mather's name is also supportable. The Conservatives will support the motion, our amendment, obviously, and the amendment in Jim Mather's name.

The key issue to have been raised so far by Lewis Macdonald and responded to by Mr Mather is the timetable for ensuring that a Government policy of one contract for supported businesses from each public authority is realised. Opposition parties always call on Governments to do things faster and ensure that things are implemented but, in this case, the call for speeding up is fair and reasonable.

The Public Contracts (Scotland) Regulations 2006 have been in force since 31 January 2006 and, as we heard, we have had a procurement policy for three years. In October 2009, "The Scottish Sustainable Procurement Action Plan" was published and then, in September this year, the "Scottish Government Sustainable Procurement Delivery Plan" was published.

Delivery activity 13 in that most recent document is:

"Develop a strategy for awarding at least one contract to a Supported Business or Factory".

That is absolutely right, but it calls for a strategy to be developed by 30 November 2010. Given the length of time that the regulations have been in force and the importance of public sector contracts to supported businesses up and down the country, it is right to call for a timetable and it is appropriate that the Government put one in place so that article 19 contracts are awarded.

Later in my speech, I will return to the timetable with a word of caution. However, the minister's response was fair in that we must be careful that the timetable does not become simply a tick-box exercise, although the principle of having a timetable that proceeds as quickly as possible is absolutely correct.

The regulations have been in force since January 2006, but everybody agrees that not many contracts—whether zero, a handful or one—have been reserved under article 19. The reason for that is unclear. One suggestion that Richard Baker made in his members' business debate in January is that there is a lack of awareness of article 19. From memory, I think that he quoted a council in the region that he represents, which, when asked why nobody used reserved contracts, responded that nobody had asked it to use one. That may be hearsay, but it is what was said in the debate. If any council is unaware of article 19 or has not been asked to use it, it is extremely helpful that we have a debate such as this one and get all the parties to support the motion. Anything that moves the debate on is to be welcomed.

I turn to our amendment, which has two parts. The second part says that we should encourage main contractors to take on subcontractors that are supported businesses. That tries to take the issue one step further, although we cannot compel main contractors to do it.

Having one direct contract between a public authority and a supported business is a good start, but trying to foster a culture in which those who contract with the state give serious consideration to taking on subcontractors that are supported businesses would be a good way to take the matter forward. It would create supplier diversity in the supply chain and help businesses to achieve their corporate social responsibility targets.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

The member talked about making use of subcontracting. Does he agree that the initial tender document would have to say that any public procurer would have to consider article 19? Otherwise, the competitive position would discourage exactly what he wants to do.

Photo of Gavin Brown Gavin Brown Conservative

I do not think that article 19 would cover getting the main contractors to give business to supported workplaces. Article 19 is about a direct relationship between the state and the organisation with which it is contracting. The member asked about the initial tender document. There are two possibilities: either the council or the national health service board would put in its contract with the main contractor a clause providing that the contractor has to give a certain percentage of the subcontract to a supported business, or Government and public bodies as a whole would take the carrot approach of encouraging main contractors, as a matter of policy and practice, to give an element of subcontracts to supported workplaces.

I turn to the issue of the timetable. I think that I made my position clear that a timetable is absolutely right and appropriate, but we have to be careful not to put an arbitrary date of a matter of months on it just for the sake of doing so. We need to take all public authorities and public bodies with us. They have to be active, rather than reluctant, participants. If they are reluctant participants they will probably give only one contract to a supported workplace. Given that there is no strict policy on the value of the contract that has to be given to a supported workplace, if the timetable is too arbitrary and too short, there is a danger that they will simply give a low-value contract, such as a £10,000 contract, to the supported workplace, whereas if they had waited six or seven months, they might have given a £1 million contract to a supported workplace. We do not want them to low-ball, just so that they can tick a box; we want them to award more than one contract if that is appropriate.

The Labour Party was quite right to lodge the motion and we certainly support it. It is right to call for a timetable. However, I, like the minister, sound a note of caution about the exact timetable that we specify, so that we get the best for supported workplaces as opposed to public bodies simply ticking boxes.

I move amendment S3M-7157.1, to insert at end:

"and, in so doing, take account of the fact that there may be a small minority of public bodies that will face practical difficulties in achieving this aim, and, in addition, believes that main contractors should be actively encouraged, on a voluntary basis, to use supported employment organisations as subcontractors on public sector contracts."

Photo of Mike Pringle Mike Pringle Liberal Democrat 9:47 am, 7th October 2010

Supported employment refers to the practice of providing opportunities for disabled people to enter into work. Individuals learn on the job with support from co-workers and job coaches who match the skills, preferences and experience of the employee to appropriate roles and positions. Employees then have the ability to develop their skills and seek further training as desired.

Organisations such as Remploy are important in helping those with disabilities enter into mainstream employment. Supported employment opportunities allow individuals to enter into work, while traditionally employment rates among those with disabilities have been low. For example, in 2008 only 48.1 per cent of people with disabilities were employed. Although such employment has obvious financial benefits, the opportunity to work also brings additional physical and mental welfare benefits.

In February, the Scottish Government published "The Supported Employment Framework for Scotland", which aims to raise awareness about the benefits of supported employment, ensure that it is seen as an integral part of local employment services and help agencies work together to ensure that individuals make the transition from training to work. The framework also includes an action plan for the Scottish Government, local authorities and related agencies.

Although the Scottish Government has previously stated its intention to ensure that every public body has at least one contract agreement with supported business—a position that it reiterated in its sustainable procurement action plan—as of January this year only one such contract had been awarded. As of July, there are no current contracts with supported businesses.

Aberdeen City Council and the City of Edinburgh Council have recently been criticised for cutting support to certain supported initiatives. Such criticism is not entirely fair. Aberdeen City Council colleagues worked tirelessly to find a way for the Glencraft enterprise to continue and even agreed to waive the factory's £225,000 rent for a year.

Similarly, the City of Edinburgh Council has been in discussions with all involved to try to make Blindcraft a more sustainable concern and is now putting out its considerations to a 30-day public consultation to try to find a way forward to support Blindcraft. That move was supported by the Scottish National Party and Conservative councillors on the council, who voted in favour of the plans. It is worth noting that, if it were not for the United Kingdom Government's financial mismanagement, councils throughout the country might not have to be making such stringent plans for the future, which would leave enough money to fund supported employment opportunities.

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour

Mike Pringle shares my concern about the future of the 70 jobs at Blindcraft. Forget about the votes in the council and party politics, what is he doing with his Liberal Democrat colleagues, who control the City of Edinburgh Council, to get round the table with the minister and others to try to find a way forward, instead of just talking about it and pretending that he is interested in it?

Photo of Mike Pringle Mike Pringle Liberal Democrat

I thank George Foulkes for that intervention. We cannot ignore party politics—that is what it is all about. The council is trying to make a decision. I have spoken to my colleagues on the council and they are doing what they can. I will talk about that in more detail later and if George Foulkes wants to intervene again, I will be happy to discuss it with him.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats support the concept of supported employment. Everyone has the right to work and to undertake employment that is both meaningful and rewarding. It is therefore essential that appropriate training and work be provided for people who have disabilities or health conditions. Ideally, people should where possible be supported to move into mainstream employment through training and gaining practical work experience. However, supported workshops have played and always will play an important role.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats also support the use of article 19 of the EU public procurement directive, to which others have referred. That provision allows for public sector contracts to be reserved for workplaces where more than 50 per cent of the workforce are disabled. By using article 19, public sector organisations can make their money work twice as hard, delivering both social outcomes and procurement benefits. That approach links in with our intention to maximise the use of community benefit clauses in public procurement opportunities.

I turn specifically to the question that George Foulkes raised with regard to Blindcraft. The City of Edinburgh Council has commenced a 30-day statutory consultation period with the staff at Blindcraft regarding the two remaining options identified to deliver savings.

Photo of John Park John Park Labour

Given the nature of the contract, does the member think that the statutory consultation is perhaps too short? Given that more than 70 jobs are involved, might it be useful for the council to extend that period to look further at different options?

Photo of Mike Pringle Mike Pringle Liberal Democrat

It is a statutory consultation period. It is set down in law that it has to be 30 days. I understand that it has to be 30 days as a minimum.

If we are honest, the councillors and others have long been aware of the financial challenges that Blindcraft has faced over the years. As far back as 1999-2000, I was on the board of Blindcraft. It was losing substantial amounts of money then and we continued to try to support it and keep it going. At that time, we were living in a better economic climate, in which the council perhaps had some spare money.

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour

I know that Mike Pringle is genuinely concerned about this matter, because I have discussed it with him. He can take up John Park's suggestion by suggesting to the City of Edinburgh Council that it delay the start of the 30-day period to give more time for consultation. If he does that—and if he persuades the council to do that—I can give him half a dozen suggested ways in which the council can save money without the closure of the Blindcraft workshop in Edinburgh.

Photo of Mike Pringle Mike Pringle Liberal Democrat

I am happy to talk to my council colleagues and to put those suggestions to them.

Over a number of years, the council has considered various ways of reducing the level of subsidy that Blindcraft requires. A major restructuring of the organisation took place in 2004, which resulted in some cuts to the workforce. Since then, despite the introduction of measures such as tighter stock control and the exploration of new markets to reduce cost, the deficit remains too high to be affordable.

I highlight the fact that Blindcraft is not a charity, but a trading operation of the City of Edinburgh Council. The difficult economic climate is having an impact: bedding sales figures are down and many bedding companies have gone into administration. As a result, Blindcraft is making beds at a massive subsidy per disabled person and not enough people want to buy them.

The council has tried hard to attract other public sector partners to buy Blindcraft products, but those approaches have not been successful as the costs are not competitive. I understand that Kenny MacAskill was approached to ask the Scottish Prison Service whether it might help, but unfortunately nothing happened as a result.

It is completely unrealistic to ask other parts of the public sector to share the City of Edinburgh Council's burden in the current financial climate. Despite all efforts, the current annual council subsidy to Blindcraft is £1.1 million per annum, and the overall deficit funding that has been provided in the past eight years has exceeded £11 million. The council has acknowledged that it is unable to continue to subsidise Blindcraft at the current level, which is a sum that is equal to more than £30,000 per disabled person. That is £30,000 that is not being spent on care packages, learning support and other front-line services for the growing number of people with disabilities for whom the council cannot afford to provide a service.

Trade unions have been fully engaged in the process and are considering various options. The council's budget motion, which was agreed in March, identified the need to find savings of £700,000 in the current financial year. Extensive negotiations have taken place and two options remain, both of which require the redeployment of staff, hence the need for the statutory consultation. There are currently 53 permanent employees, of whom 34 are disabled. The council is mindful of its responsibility towards staff and has commissioned the RNIB to offer a confidential and voluntary assessment for all staff, which around 80 per cent have taken up.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

The member should close now.

Photo of Mike Pringle Mike Pringle Liberal Democrat

I am just concluding, Presiding Officer.

The most important thing at present is to continue to support the staff through this period and not to prejudge the outcome of the consultation. I know that the situation is difficult for MSPs, and more so for the employees of Blindcraft and their families, but we must be mindful of the chronic economic situation that the council and other public sector bodies now face.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour 9:57 am, 7th October 2010

I am deeply disappointed that we have had to have this debate today, because in the debate in January members on all sides of the chamber agreed that the Parliament supports workplaces with supported employment. Lewis Macdonald was right to say that supported employment is about giving disabled people the opportunity for dignity and access to employment.

It is not good enough to turn up at the 11th hour to alert people—as the minister's notice did earlier this week—to the opportunities that exist for procurement contracts. We all know that: the issue was debated in the chamber in January and ministers made commitments that action would be taken.

It is astounding that so little information came forward while members were researching the issue prior to the debate on exactly what contracts have been signed and what has happened in terms of procurement. The SNP has been in government for three years, and procurement is one of its Achilles' heels. There is always a great deal of talk about procurement, but there is not enough action.

It is not good enough for the minister to say that he supports projects such as Blindcraft when things are now happening. Mike Pringle is right to remind us, and the council briefing makes clear, that the 30-day period began on 28 September, so there is not much time to resolve the issue.

Although the minister has committed to more action on procurement in the short term, that will not automatically help the Blindcraft workers. It is a typical decision by our Lib Dem-SNP council that has been taken without values, without seriously examining the better alternatives and certainly without considering the impact on people with disabilities.

I know that Mike Pringle genuinely wants to save Blindcraft and look after the workers, but it is not good enough for him to say that it costs £30,000 a head for those workers and that the money could be spent on other disabled people in our city. The issue is how we can best support all those people.

If the Blindcraft project that is currently trading shuts down, what will happen to the staff? We know that we are in the middle of an economic recession and that people are suffering the Salmond slump, and those workers will not have easy opportunities to get jobs.

Members need look only at the briefing from the Leonard Cheshire Foundation, which makes clear that disabled people face discrimination in education and employment: 11 per cent leave school without qualifications and 54 per cent experience discrimination at school, college or university. People already experience problems not just because of their disability but because of how they are treated, and that situation will get worse if Blindcraft closes.

Jim Mather mentioned that the world is changing. We know that, and there could not be a worse time for people to be made redundant no matter who they are in the workforce, but if they have a disability it is harder for them.

In the previous debate on the subject, I said that Blindcraft was set up in 1763 and that it has survived previous financial recessions, so surely we can protect those jobs. Jim Mather is right to say that he does not want token compliance: I do not think that any of us wants that. We want proper compliance and proper procurement contracts, and we want to have those reported back to us.

I was astounded that Johann Lamont's question could not be answered, as the subject of the Southern general hospital contract—and the issue of the Commonwealth games—was raised in the debate in January. What has happened? It should not be impossible for the minister to report back to us.

If Jim Mather thinks that there is a problem with the type of products that are produced, he needs to say so, because we need an honest discussion rather than recycling the debate every six months. Does the minister think that Blindcraft is producing the wrong products: yes or no?

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

Sarah Boyack calls for honesty, but she polarises the argument, which will get us nowhere. She also ignores the fact that, as I said, we have contracts in place with supported businesses for the Commonwealth games. If we polarise the argument and there is a lack of collaboration, we will get sub-optimisation. Supported businesses want optimisation; they do not want us to be at one another's throats on the issue.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I accept that, but the problem is that we had exactly the same debate in January this year. There has been time for the minister to bottom out some of the issues and come back to the chamber, but all that we have had is the new alert to tell people that there are opportunities for procurement. We need to do more.

The minister said that we need mutually rewarding relationships. We all want that, and procurement could deliver it. He mentioned the need for strong revenue streams to come through, and that is what we all believe procurement can potentially give. That is why we lodged the Labour motion, and that is what we want to hear from the minister.

My colleague George Foulkes asked the minister whether he would meet Blindcraft. I was grateful that the minister said yes, but he needs to get the council round the table. As Mike Pringle said, the council faces a lot of difficult decisions. It has put the matter out to consultation for a period of 30 days, which started on 28 September; that is why the minister is getting passion and demands for action from Labour members. Action is required now: the issue was flagged up in January, but nothing has happened.

If nothing happens in the next month, it is clear that those jobs will go. Mike Pringle has made the case for action. We know that difficult decisions need to be made, and that requires banging heads together and sitting people down to seek solutions. Minister, the time to act is now. We cannot hold another debate in six months' time, as Blindcraft will not be here. We plead with the minister to meet the people at Blindcraft and the city council, because something needs to happen now.

Decisions need to be made on public procurement. If the minister does not think that Blindcraft is producing the right products at the right prices, he should say so up front and we should seek a solution. If Blindcraft does not exist, there will be no supported employment for those staff in Edinburgh; no one will pick up the threads of that problem. That is why we are getting angry, and why we need the minister's support rather than just warm words and reassurance. We took those in January this year, and now people want to move forward together.

Today's debate gives the minister the opportunity to come back and deliver on the commitment that he made in January that he and the Government would help. We need that help to be put into practice now.

Photo of Ian McKee Ian McKee Scottish National Party 9:54 am, 7th October 2010

I am sad to say that, as Mike Pringle has pointed out, the Labour Party's motion ignores a vital element. It refers to the three years from 2007 without mentioning the global financial meltdown that occurred in that period and which has made it necessary for every council to examine carefully every financial decision that it takes. Moreover, it conveniently and entirely ignores the threat to sheltered workplaces from the huge worsening of the financial situation that was caused by the gross incompetence and mismanagement of the last Westminster Labour Government, which has resulted in Britain in general and Scotland in particular being especially hard-hit, as evidenced in the pound's calamitous fall against other world currencies.

Photo of Ian McKee Ian McKee Scottish National Party

I ask Lord Foulkes to listen for a bit. He can intervene later if he feels that I have not covered the point that he wanted to make.

How much more able would our councils have been to fulfil their social duties had Gordon Brown been more responsible with public finances? We live in difficult times and councils are faced with having to make some of the most difficult decisions they have ever had to make if they are to balance their books.

I want to look at the future of one supported employment workplace—Blindcraft in Edinburgh—as it is in the parliamentary region that I represent. The options that it is said to face are stark: either it closes or it is turned into a unit to train disabled people in a wide range of workplace and life skills with a view to enabling them to move into mainstream employment. Although it is true that consultation on the options started on 28 September and will last 30 days, I must also point out that since 2009 there have been 18 meetings with the unions about Blindcraft. As a result, to say that there has been no consultation prior to this 30-day consultation period is blurring the issue slightly.

Why have things come to this pass? Over the past eight years, Blindcraft has received more than £11 million from the City of Edinburgh Council with a net subsidy of £1.06 million in 2010-11. Currently it has 58 full-time employees, of whom 34 are blind or otherwise disabled, although I point out that the degree of disability varies.

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour

Like me, Dr McKee is not standing for Parliament next May. Surely he has the freedom at last to stop spouting this party-political propaganda and actually stand up for the constituency that he was elected to represent.

Photo of Ian McKee Ian McKee Scottish National Party

I have some positive remarks to make. In any case, I really think that it is a little bit pot-kettle for Lord Foulkes to talk about spouting party-political dogma.

In its 2007-08 and 2008-09 audits of the City of Edinburgh Council's accounts, Audit Scotland, a non-party-political body, drew attention to the fact that in respect of Blindcraft the council was failing to comply with the statutory requirement that all significant trading organisations break even on a rolling three-year basis. That is obviously still not the case for Blindcraft, even though its status as a sheltered workshop means that the social cost of employing disabled workers is recognised and already allowed for.

Eight years ago, Blindcraft was involved in bed manufacturing and wire and PVC window production. In 2004, the then Labour City of Edinburgh Council administration attempted to save money by slashing the number of employees and cutting loss-leading activities, which left bed manufacturing as the business's only remaining function. Since then, there has, unfortunately, been a significant decrease in demand for beds, mainly because of the effects of Labour's recession. I should, however, point out that in July the council used article 19 to buy beds from the company.

Members will, I know, be aware that the bedding trade is divided into two sectors: the retail consumer market and the contract market to hotels and other large organisations. Since the downturn in 2008, the retail consumer market has contracted by 10 per cent and, although precise figures are not yet available, the contract market is following the same pattern. However, that is not the only bad news for British bed manufacturers. The current enthusiasm for foam mattresses has led to significant market penetration by eastern European and third-world producers, who benefit from much lower labour costs and other overheads. The shrinking of the market and new competition are affecting all of Britain's 110 bed manufacturers, some of whom are, along with the unions, at least beginning to query the propriety of competition from a heavily publicly subsidised, albeit worthy, venture such as Blindcraft.

Glencraft in Aberdeen, as we have heard, is a similar social enterprise that is also engaged in bed manufacture. It, too, was facing a similar deficit and its future was in doubt. However, the enterprise has been saved, at least in the short term, and has been helped by the intervention of local businesses such as the Aberdeen-based Production Services Network Ltd. There has been no similar surge of support for Blindcraft from private businesses in Edinburgh and, in any case, one has to wonder about the long-term security of jobs in such a situation and in view of what has happened to the bed market.

I have dwelt on Blindcraft's problems because the business is in my region, but I am sure that the problems that it faces are not atypical. When money suddenly becomes short and when local authorities throughout Scotland are faced with making massive savings, such ventures are bound to come under increasing critical scrutiny. Although I support the sentiment behind Lewis Macdonald's motion that we speed the day when every public body has at least one contract with a supported business, I doubt that that will make much of an impact when the total market for the supported business's product is slipping away.

What is more important is that we seek sustainability by helping supported businesses to develop in such a way that they are prepared to face the challenge of meeting future needs not the needs of yesterday, and it might well be that the drive to seek radical solutions occasioned by the current financial crisis will open the way to a new and sustainable future for Scotland's supported employment workplaces.

Photo of John Park John Park Labour 10:11 am, 7th October 2010

I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate, in which the chamber had struck almost a consensual note until Dr McKee got up.

The debate has certainly given the Parliament the opportunity to send out a strong message. The minister, for example, has agreed on the importance of sitting down and finding a solution to this issue, particularly with regard to the circumstances that face Blindcraft in Edinburgh. I also welcome Mike Pringle's comment that he would speak to his Liberal Democrat colleagues to see whether something in that respect might happen. I suggest, though, that if we are to find a way forward it would be sensible for any such discussions to be tripartite and to involve employee representatives as well as the council and the employer. No one has a monopoly on good ideas, particularly when it comes to saving jobs.

I am sure that Mike Pringle appreciates that the consultation period is actually of a minimum of 30 days—and is actually the bare minimum that one would expect when one is talking about a business with fewer than 100 employees. Given such circumstances, the day-to-day issues that the employees have to deal with and the fact that they are not in the kind of normal mainstream workplace that many of us encounter each day, I think that it would be useful to take a wider look at how we might enhance the consultation period by making it longer and more meaningful and ensuring that it focuses on getting a positive outcome for the people who work at Blindcraft.

I pay tribute not only to a couple of people but to the trade unions in promoting the article 19 campaign and trying to remove the barriers to employment that disabled workers face. After the members' business debate in January, we met the unions and were left in no doubt that any progress that could be made by the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government and the wider public sector in Scotland would make a huge difference to the people they represent.

Since entering Parliament, I have taken an interest in such issues. In fact, before coming into Parliament, I became aware of the circumstances facing Remploy in Cowdenbeath and came to know an awful lot about sheltered workshops because of the work that the local member, Helen Eadie, was doing. I am sure that Mrs Eadie will say something more about that later.

The fact is that we are talking about a very small portion of the £8 billion to £9 billion-worth of goods and services that we procure in Scotland every year, but I have seen at first hand the huge difference that that very small portion can make. I was very fortunate to visit Royal Strathclyde Blindcraft Industries in Springburn, where the contract that has been reserved has made a huge difference to the workforce. It has been more of a hand-up than a handout and has allowed it to compete on a level playing field with private sector companies and get into markets that it would otherwise have been unable to get into.

As well as providing employment for people, Blindcraft provides opportunities for young people with disabilities. I met a young boy who had attended a school for the blind in Glasgow. By his own admission, he had little chance of going into mainstream employment but, because Blindcraft was participating in public sector contracts in a good way that was allowing it to be competitive, it had been able to initiate an apprenticeship programme for that young person. He now has a career in front of him that, in normal circumstances, he would never have had.

It is important to note that the decisions that we take in the Parliament have a lot of human consequences. If we promoted and publicised article 19 more widely, we would have a better chance of changing the culture in the public sector and the attitude towards reserving contracts. That would have a far greater impact than we could ever estimate—it would affect thousands of people.

On a more general point, the current economic climate means fewer opportunities for disabled workers. We want more disabled people to go into mainstream workplaces. That is absolutely right, although there is a role for sheltered workshops. However, many disabled workers who are trying to get into the mainstream workforce are frustrated. I was contacted by a young constituent who had spent almost £3,000 of his own money getting a heavy goods vehicle licence, but he had struggled even to get an interview. I tried to help him along the way through Jobcentre Plus. I wrote to the minister, Skills Development Scotland and Skills for Logistics, the sector skills council. However, at every point, my constituent came up against barriers.

We must recognise and consider that wider issue. Taking a step forward on public sector contracts could provide an opportunity for the private sector to look a bit differently at contracts and the opportunities that can be provided for disabled workers. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 has improved the situation, but we need to allow employers to participate more regularly in such schemes and ensure that the approach is about not only meeting minimum requirements, but changing the culture in the workplace.

There has not been much disagreement in the debate, but just having a policy does not necessarily mean that it will work. I want us to promote article 19 more widely. We have tried to ensure that community benefit clauses are promoted more widely, too. In my experience, I have found that in some local authorities those clauses work well. For example, Clackmannanshire Council in the region that I represent has done well with community benefit clauses. In other areas, there is very little awareness of them. On the minister's amendment, although we agree on the policy, the issue is how we promote that policy throughout the country.

The debate is about removing barriers—barriers for disabled workers, barriers in Government and barriers for employers. It is about ensuring that everyone in the country can reach their full potential in driving forward the economy and that everyone has an opportunity to work.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party 10:18 am, 7th October 2010

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate and to highlight the on-going efforts to provide a bright future for the Glencraft supported employment factory in Aberdeen. We all know that supported employment facilities provide an invaluable service to disabled people. They provide skills and training that help workers in their future careers and, most important, they provide vital employment to people with disabilities, who often find it harder than others do to find employment in the main stream, as John Park highlighted.

Unemployment rates among disabled people are significantly higher than they are among the rest of the workforce, so any measure that helps to counter that is welcome. Disabled people are no different from anyone else in their desire to have meaningful work and to receive a fair wage for their efforts. However, supported places are valuable not only for the social good that they provide, but for the long-term benefits that they offer to the public purse. The cost of supporting a person with disabilities is roughly halved if they are in employment. In 2009, the Scottish Government helped 23 supported workplaces with funding to the tune of £26.4 million, precisely because it recognises their value.

As we have heard, the economic downturn has not left supported workplaces unscathed. Local authorities are trying to make resources stretch further than ever, while demand in many business sectors has fallen. That has created massive challenges for supported workplaces—not least for Glencraft in Aberdeen. When Aberdeen City Council had no option but to end its annual subsidy of £470,000 to the factory, the workforce at Glencraft faced extremely worrying times. The business could not find a way to operate without a subsidy and eventually went into voluntary administration.

Glencraft has, however, become something of a success story for assisted workplaces by making the transition from local government subsidy to self-sufficiency. The personal intervention of the First Minister was critical in bringing on board the locally headquartered Production Services Network to offer support to a revived operation. The support of PSN financially and in providing expertise and advice to Glencraft was essential in giving workers hope for the future. Just as important were the decision of Aberdeen City Council to waive rent arrears for the factory so that it could become more financially viable, and support from the Scottish Government.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

The member says that the First Minister's intervention was crucial. Can we count on the same support and intervention for Blindcraft in Edinburgh?

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

If the member will let me continue, she will find that I believe that lessons can be learned from the Glencraft experience. I hope that Blindcraft in Edinburgh has been in touch with people at Glencraft in Aberdeen to find out exactly how it secured private interest in helping the factory. I am sure that similar businesses in Edinburgh could be brought on board. As my colleague Ian McKee said, it is important that all Edinburgh members in the Parliament work together to make that happen.

There remain challenges for Glencraft, not least of which is the need to raise £0.5 million to secure new fit-for-purpose premises from which to operate. However, the real lesson is about the importance of businesses, members of the public, local authorities and the Scottish Government working together to secure a viable future for supported workplaces. I am sure that, for Blindcraft in Edinburgh, a good outcome is a possibility.

Just last month, there was a fantastic fundraising effort that involved almost 200 people making the 17-mile walk from Banchory to Aberdeen through the night to raise £20,000. We should all pay tribute to those people for their efforts. People in Aberdeen have a special place in their hearts for Glencraft, which has been operating since 1863. I am sure that supported workplaces elsewhere are in a similar situation. In such times, we all need to buy that extra bed or replace our bed earlier to help those businesses to survive. People need to buy the products.

In Aberdeen, businesses such as local hoteliers and public agencies are represented on the new board of Glencraft.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

Does the member agree that that is exactly why we need more urgency on article 19? The aim is to give businesses work. It is not about people giving them a hand by perhaps buying something from them; it is about giving them stability from which they can show that they have business acumen and capacity to deliver. We must recognise the failure to do that. I am sure that the member will recognise the importance of article 19 in that regard.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

I absolutely agree that it cannot be a tick-box exercise. The approach must be long term and there must be a sustainable business with products that are competitive in the marketplace. People will not buy products if they do not provide value for money or are not competitive.

We have a good and on-going success story in Aberdeen. That approach must be rolled out to other supported workplaces throughout the country; they can have a viable future. The commitment of the staff and all those who work at Glencraft is a great benefit. To me, that is the big society already in action, and David Cameron is a Johnny-come-lately on that. It can work when people come together.

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat 10:25 am, 7th October 2010

As other members before me have done, I recognise fully the role that is played by supported employment in giving access to employment opportunities to people with disabilities. I support the role that it can and does play in meeting the aspirations of those who seek to move into mainstream employment through supported employment.

I have visited a number of the organisations, and the commitment of those who are involved in supported employment placements is unquestionable. We have spoken quite a lot about supported employment businesses, but we need to recognise that there are many organisations across the country, such as social enterprises, that are providing employment opportunities for people with disabilities or who are recovering from alcoholism or drug addictions.

I support that social enterprise model. One of the organisations that I have visited is Haven Products, which competes effectively in a commercial market across a range of its activities. I recommend to colleagues that we look at the support models that are offered by Haven and Momentum Scotland, which provide much wider access to mainstream employment for people with disabilities, depending entirely on the needs and aspirations of the individuals. As other speakers have said, it is incumbent on the Government to bring to bear pressure on other public bodies to offer support through their procurement policies and article 19. I am not convinced that the Government has done that effectively.

If we are to root our main equalities agenda in the concept of mainstreaming, we must all understand that the routes to mainstreaming are varied and we must maximise opportunities for people. When I look at Haven's success in combining an ethos of support for people with multiple barriers to gaining employment—whether they have brain injuries, mental health issues or learning difficulties—with the organisation's business success in working with, for want of a better phrase, a range of hard-nosed, results-driven commercial organisations, I am convinced that if supported employment is to develop, we have to consider that model. Organisations must review how they are addressing that model if we are to give people opportunities to move into the mainstream job market, if that is what they want to do and there are opportunities to do so. There are job coaching, job buddying and a range of other opportunities, but such approaches have to focus entirely on the individual's aspirations and abilities. That is what our mainstreaming equalities agenda should be about.

In order to develop both the people who work in those organisations and those who wish to move into mainstream employment, the sector needs our public sector to buy into the value that supported employment offers. We spoke about article 19, but part of the issue is about guiding such organisations on how to get on to a tender list in the first place. I have seen mainstream companies that seek to benefit from the procurement money that is available at local authority and national Government level struggle to get over the bureaucratic hurdles just to get on to a tender list. Somebody needs to look at that situation pretty closely, particularly in relation to article 19. I am not convinced that we have got it right.

There has to be a conversation, not just with the employers, but with the people involved, who have to get round the table to establish what they want for their lives. This cannot be yet another situation in which people with disabilities have things done for and to them but not with them; that model of operation belongs in a different century. The situation in Edinburgh highlights the need for us to look at how we take forward the equalities agenda in relation to people with disabilities and how we maximise opportunities for those people to meet their aspirations. That should not be a decision that is made on their behalf by people sitting in a room.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour 10:31 am, 7th October 2010

I, too, extend a warm welcome to the representatives from the sheltered employment workshops workforce in the public gallery, especially those from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Fife. I am sure that we are all pleased to have them with us today.

In particular, I pay tribute to John Moist of the GMB without whom Remploy, which has existed for more than 10 years, would never have been started. Lyn Turner of Unite also deserves special praise for his dedication and commitment to the cause of all sheltered employment workshops personnel across Scotland, and I am sorry that he cannot be with us today. I extend the same thanks to John-Paul McHugh, Steve McCool and John Steele—who has now retired—of Community.

I speak on behalf of many of my constituents who are employed in the Remploy factory in Cowdenbeath and the various sheltered employment workshops that I have visited in different parts of Scotland over the years. Those people are highly skilled and proud of their work. Because my communities have a tradition of coal mining and heavy industry, the people there suffer a high level of disability. The Cowdenbeath Remploy factory has been a crucial local employer over the years.

Scottish Government ministers have behaved like poodles in their work and commitment to sheltered employment over the past three years. It is clear to me that ministers have simply rolled over and had their tummies tickled and done little or nothing to challenge themselves or anyone else to make a difference for workers in sheltered employment workshops. I say to the minister that although I am sorry to change the tone of the debate, I feel very angry on behalf of all those people who work in sheltered employment workshops in Scotland. He has done nothing over the past three years to bring compelling evidence to us that Government contracts are awarded to such workshops.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

I wonder whether the member was here when I made my opening speech and talked about procurement reform, the fact that we are bringing together businesses to broadcast their work, community benefit causes, our commitment to article 19 and our support for the Labour motion today.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

Those are fine words, but that is all that we have had from this Government about sheltered workshops over the past three years. It is not good enough. These people's jobs, livelihoods and futures are at stake. They are angry and I am angry for them. My colleague Sarah Boyack put it much more eloquently than I can—she is so passionate, but able to present her argument in a cool and rational way, whereas I just share the burning anger that the people who work in sheltered workshops are feeling. It is impossible to get the message across to the minister and, indeed, to every other member in the chamber.

Every one of us has purchasing power, but how many MSPs have used any of their allowance to purchase directly from sheltered employment workshops? They could do it. The head of procurement in the Scottish Parliament, Lynn Garvie, has been the one and only champion in Scotland to use article 19. She is a shining example to us. She has shown us the way and given us technical answers. If we want someone who can answer the practical questions that were put by Brian Adam, Lynn Garvie is the one to go to. I have nothing but absolute admiration for her commitment. She talks not just about having one champion, but about appointing champions throughout Scotland in all the different Government agencies.

I say to the minister that we have contracts for uniforms for the police, the fire service, the ambulance service and nurses and beds in hospitals, prisons and universities. The Government could purchase a catalogue of products. However, when I visited Blindcraft a month ago, I was told that it gets its university contracts from England and that premier hotels from England buy from it. I will buy a new bed from Blindcraft. How many of us in the Parliament will follow the advice of Maureen Watt, who has now disappeared from the chamber? How many of us will buy a new mattress from Blindcraft? More important, which Government contracts will order new beds from Blindcraft?

Such organisations do not want charity; they want our conviction. They want business and they want to show their ability. When I visited Blindcraft, I was impressed that people who are totally blind were using electric guns and working complicated technological machines.

The speech that I wrote has gone out of the window—it is useless. I feel angry at some comments that I have heard, because they do not reflect reality. I do not want just one champion; I want civil servants and every minister to champion supported employment and I want ministers to direct their officials to ensure that contracts are reserved. That can be done—article 19 gives us that ability. I am proud that my union has played an important part in ensuring that.

We can consider what the Ministry of Defence has done: its special quick-don uniforms for high-emergency situations of real danger have been made in Cowdenbeath, where I come from. The Ministry of Defence has millions and millions of pounds of such contracts. If that can be arranged in London, why cannot we do that in Scotland? What is lacking in ministers in Scotland? Why cannot they provide such contracts?

It is time that people got off their seats and that civil servants were out there. It is time to consider the opportunities that are available. Remploy makes trousers for the Post Office and bags for newspaper groups, for example. It has made furniture for MSPs. For every new school that we build—if we build any new schools, which is a debatable point—why do we not have contracts to purchase furniture from Remploy or other sheltered workshops?

We do not want handouts. These are good people and we must provide for them. It is a bit like Pastor Niemöller's prayer: "They came for the Jews, they came for the trade unionists, they came for me, and there was no one else to fight for me." We must fight for these people. We are their champions and we must deliver for them.

I feel nothing but absolute outrage and anger at the attitude of organisations such as the City of Edinburgh Council. Lesley Hinds has proposed over and over again many ways in which the council could address the issues. All the political parties need to get round the table and take a fully co-operative—or mutual—approach. The Government uses the word "mutual", but I do not think that it knows the meaning of the words "mutual" and "mutuality".

Everyone must get round the table and ensure that they make a difference for the people in Blindcraft and all the other factories. The experiences of Glencraft last year and Blindcraft now are like a train coming down the line. All the other sheltered workshops will be affected if the Government does not get a move on and sort out the problem.

Photo of Bill Kidd Bill Kidd Scottish National Party 10:38 am, 7th October 2010

I, too, thank Lewis Macdonald for bringing this important debate to the chamber. We all agree that, at times of economic difficulty, vulnerable sections of society are in even more danger than usual of being marginalised, as the mainstream population is more prone to pulling up the equality ladder behind itself. It is incumbent on all of us to keep at the front of our minds the fact that we have an inclusive nation in which everyone counts and in which everyone must be treated as equally as possible.

Mainstreaming equalities is important. Lewis Macdonald said that mainstreaming should sometimes be put to the side and we should take more positive action on behalf of some sections of society, but I would like everyone to be considered to be in the main stream in the not-too-distant future. Unfortunately, that is not the case at the moment.

Of the general population in Scotland, 80 per cent work. That is not enough in itself, but only 37 per cent of people with disabilities have work, despite years of worthy talk from politicians of all parties and all Governments. Everyone has paid lip service to the idea that citizens with disabilities should be treated in a more befitting manner; it has taken a wee while to deliver on that.

As other members have done, I welcome the opportunity to discuss the future of Scotland's supported employment workplaces and to discuss people with disabilities who are looking for employment outside such workplaces. Helen Eadie sometimes becomes slightly aerated about the issue, but I know that that is because of her commitment. The welcome disability report that was issued four years ago shows that she has a genuine case.

It is important to talk about the whole range of people with disabilities who are looking for employment and for access to ordinary employment. As the Equal Opportunities Committee's disability reporter, I am—obviously—interested in the issue.

It is a self-evident truth that paid employment offers the best route out of the poverty trap in which many people with disabilities find themselves. A variety of inclusive policies has been developed over the years with the aim of removing barriers to employment for those who are furthest from the labour market. The obstacles to employment for people with disabilities should—sadly—be familiar to us all. As I said, less than half the disabled people in Scotland are in employment, in comparison with more than three quarters of the general population. It is our duty as a society to overcome that.

All too often, disabled people are held back by low expectations. Those are sometimes their own, because society has led them to think that they cannot contribute fully, and they are sometimes the low expectations of the rest of us, who believe that people with disabilities cannot contribute to the same degree as we can. Of course, that is nonsense, as everybody in the chamber knows. That mindset has never had a place in Scotland and certainly has no place today.

It is important to recognise that many supported employment workplaces have been successful. Members might not know that Blindcraft Glasgow, in the region that I come from, began as a workshop for visually impaired people and has expanded to employ workers with other disabilities. The workforce consists of 125 employees who are registered disabled. It is important that public bodies support such workplaces. It is unlike me to do so, but I congratulate Glasgow City Council on its support for Blindcraft Glasgow, which has provided an example that I wish that many other local authorities and public bodies would follow.

Outside the debate about supported workplaces, I very much welcome the minister's list of examples of good practice that the Scottish Government has initiated. I am pleased that Glasgow Housing Association has been a big winner in the programme and has provided 1,500 places for disabled people in recent years. I am also pleased that 10 per cent of the workforce in the construction phases for the 2014 Commonwealth games is guaranteed to be for disabled people. Those big-ticket issues point all public bodies in the direction of ensuring that people with disabilities are not at the bottom of the list for employment and are included in employment programmes.

As Mike Pringle said, for the foreseeable future supported workplaces will be specifically required to employ disabled people. The demand for positions in those workplaces exists, so we need a demand for their products.

It is of great importance that article 19 is promoted as widely as possible and that the first-class products of Scotland's supported workplaces are put at the top of procurement agendas. I will make a suggestion, even though I have been told that I may be flying a kite that will not go anywhere. One intervention by the Scottish Government might be to encourage Scottish Enterprise to deliver product diversification advice to supported workplaces, so that they may benefit in the same way as private industry does. Scottish Enterprise may be reluctant to involve itself in social enterprise businesses, but it should be encouraged to do so, as it has the expertise to help supported workplaces to ensure that there is a market for their products.

As the world changes, product development is always important, but it is no more important than social responsibility. The progress that the minister and his colleagues have made through community benefit clauses shows the Scottish Government's commitment to supporting disability employment. However, the minister will agree that article 19 must be delivered to ensure that supported workplaces achieve the position in society that they deserve and that people with disabilities are seen as full and equal partners in society.

Photo of Frank McAveety Frank McAveety Labour 10:46 am, 7th October 2010

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this debate. I thank Bill Kidd for his thoughtful speech, in which he recognised that, even in times of adversity, choices can be made. I am troubled by the emergence in part of the debate of a new orthodoxy that we cannot do things because of the economic difficulties in our country. As David Cameron said yesterday, we have had such difficulties before, but we came through them.

The new orthodoxy uses the difficult times as an excuse not to try to do something about an issue that unites the chamber. There is not necessarily a great gulf between the passion that Helen Eadie expressed and the commitment that the minister expressed in his opening remarks. We will be judged on how we bridge that gap over the next period to deliver for the individuals who are watching this debate from the public gallery.

First, we have £8 billion or £9 billion at our disposal that could be redeployed, re-examined and reconfigured, working with organisations such as Co-operative Development Scotland and Scottish Enterprise, to deliver a much more effective dynamic around the issue. We should do that. The minister made the same point in January. Such work should be encouraged over the next period.

Secondly, although we have economic difficulties, public infrastructure will continue to be built in this country. The logic of the new Prime Minister's speech yesterday is that the private sector should fill the gap that the public sector can no longer fill through taxation; that seems to be the economic theory that he is proposing. Let us see whether we can engage with the private sector to fill the gap. I have my doubts, but if that is the test and examination, let us have a go at it.

A range of organisations have made submissions to us today. People want to have the opportunity to get work and to develop their career. They want fair pay and to engage with wider society. Bill Kidd touched on the experience of individuals with disability, who have not been able to fulfil their employment aspirations. No one disagrees that they should be able to fulfil those aspirations, so let us try to make a difference.

Over the past few weeks, speeches have been important at the party conferences. However, I have been rereading a speech that Mario Cuomo made in 1984, as he surveyed the landscape of Reaganism in America. He said:

"The Republicans believe that the wagon train will not make it to the frontier unless some of the old, some of the young, some of the weak are left behind by the side of the trail. 'The strong,' they tell us, 'will inherit the land.'"

If we do not make decisions now and in the immediate future, many of the people who are much more vulnerable in an economic recession may find that their opportunities are substantially diminished or—in the case of the individuals at Blindcraft's factory in Edinburgh—may not have work at all. That would be a legacy of failure.

A couple of members have mentioned Glasgow Blindcraft. My colleague Charlie Gordon and I were part of the local authority arrangement in the late 1990s. Budgets were particularly difficult at that time, but we made a conscious political choice to try to preserve the work of Blindcraft, because we thought that it was important as part of our wider social obligation. We had inherited a disadvantaged budget because of reorganisation. The cross-subsidy money from Strathclyde Regional Council did not necessarily come to the city of Glasgow. We made a choice, tough as it was. I am not saying that other choices that we made were not difficult, but we had to defend those. I am worried by the orthodoxy that is emerging on the issue.

A number of months have passed since January, but we have not made the progress that we should have made. I hope that we can make that progress. The minister has announced that he will step down at the end of the session. As he reaches the sunset of his parliamentary career, legacy is an important issue. We all want to leave a wee footprint; some of us leave big size 11 footprints over some things. However, the minister has an opportunity to drive forward on these issues for the better, so that when he is enjoying retirement—if that is possible—he can reflect on that legacy and say that he has done something on supported workplaces. I hope that that suggestion will invite a positive response from him.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

I welcome the member's comments. There is a shared potential for legacy in the Parliament. By the way, there are no plans for an obituary.

Photo of Frank McAveety Frank McAveety Labour

I have almost been legacied out by Commonwealth games debates with all of the various organisations in Glasgow. I know that a number of other members have engaged in those discussions.

One of the key opportunities that I mentioned in January, which is still important, is the major development of 1,500 new houses, a care home and associated support facilities in the east end of Glasgow. Even reasonable estimates suggest expenditure of £0.25 billion; the figure may be much higher if we factor in some of the contributions that we hope for from the private sector. That is a lot of money. With a reasonable bit of will and by pulling people together, one legacy of the development could be a commitment to procurement from both public and private contributors. I know that Glasgow City Council will support that.

I mention the development for another reason. In the next few weeks, a community development trust will be established in my community of Dalmarnock. The purpose of the trust is to get the benefits from such big investment back to the locality, which would make a real difference. One experience of previous big events over the generations is that money does not go back to the areas that are most immediately affected. The trust's work is relevant to Hugh O'Donnell's point about mutual enterprises, will provide community benefit and will fulfil a social obligation to those whom we regard as the most vulnerable in our society.

I am conscious of the need to leave time for other members, but I will conclude with two important points. First, we have choices to make over the next period. Anything that the minister can do to address the immediate concerns relating to Blindcraft's Edinburgh factory will be helpful. As all members who have spoken have indicated, a strategy for development is also needed.

Secondly, Mario Cuomo's speech contained another great quote that is relevant to the debate about our country's direction of travel. He said:

"We believe in only the government we need, but we insist on all the government we need."

We need Government to assist in this process to make a difference. I hope that the minister and the Government can do that for the benefit of supported workplaces in Scotland.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party 10:53 am, 7th October 2010

All of us agree that more can always be done, but the Scottish Government is to be applauded for officially proposing a target and for the work that it has done so far. Members from all parties have mentioned a number of positives. Of most relevance is the Scottish Government's sustainable procurement delivery plan, which was published only last week. Delivery activity 13 of the plan states that, by November 2010, the Scottish procurement directorate

"will develop an implementation plan for buyers to achieve" the objective of

"awarding at least one contract to a Supported Business".

I look forward to seeing that objective being achieved. All members, regardless of political party, will share that wish.

I was a member of the Equal Opportunities Committee a number of years ago, and Bill Kidd referred to our investigation during the committee's inquiry on disability. One thing that came across loud and clear from the people from whom we took evidence and from the businesses that we visited was that, regardless of their disability, people wanted to be treated absolutely equally and absolutely the same as any other worker in the workforce. That is the premise on which we have to start not just this welcome debate but any strategy that is pursued.

The debate is not just about getting people back into work and the associated economic benefits of that; it is about improving their quality of life. Working results in improved self-esteem and a feeling of usefulness. Work and being part of a working community can result in physical benefits as part of an active life. The general improvements in physical and mental wellbeing are plain for everyone to see, but there are often worries that some people will be worse off financially. That comes across in every part of the workforce. People who return to work sometimes worry about loss of benefits and so on, but I looked at studies that North Lanarkshire Council carried out, which showed that, on average, people are £124 better off as a result of returning to work. We should consider that premise, too. As well as wanting to be treated equally, people are better off physically and in their pockets if they are working.

It is clear for all of us to see that supported employment provides both an improved quality of life and clear financial benefits. There is a further, equally important benefit, especially in these difficult economic times: the saving and gain not just for people but for the public purse, as a result of fewer benefit payments being made.

In mentioning that added benefit, I am aware that I am straying into issues that are outwith the control of this Parliament—into issues that are reserved to Westminster. Lewis Macdonald touched on that in his speech when he mentioned ministers in other places. The fact that the powers on this issue are reserved to Westminster limits this Parliament and whatever Government is in power from using every means at our disposal to ensure that supported employment has every opportunity to flourish and succeed.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

I see Helen Eadie shaking her head, but I think that we should consider every single possibility.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

Will Sandra White go back and ask all her ministers which of them have examined all the possibilities for using contracts to purchase from sheltered workshops? As I said, a vast array of products is available. There are catalogues a foot high with items that can be purchased. It is not as if sheltered workshops are not making useful things; they are making things that are really useful and needed.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

I absolutely agree with Helen Eadie on that. I bought a bed from Blindcraft, not just because it was from Blindcraft but because it was of a better quality. I can certainly ask ministers about that if Helen Eadie wants me to, but I also suggest to her that we should not bring party politics into it. Her party was in power for eight years, and she can ask her former ministers, too. I will leave it at that.

I spoke earlier about how we can encourage growth in supported employment. I few ideas have come to my mind, which I believe should be given serious consideration. Lewis Macdonald spoke about creating a people's champion, and I think that someone else picked up on that idea. That might be a good idea, and it certainly should not be ruled out, but there are barriers to it, as several members have mentioned, which we should be aware of.

Like Bill Kidd, I might be flying a kite that is not going anywhere, but I have various ideas that I think we could bring into the process. First, in creating employment, supported workplaces take people off benefit and increase tax revenue. Would it not be worth considering lowering national insurance contributions for such enterprises so as to increase their profitability and allow them to expand with greater ease, given that that extra public revenue is already being accrued through increased personal taxation and a reduced extension of benefits? That is one idea.

Secondly, could we not consider providing VAT relief for such companies to improve their competitiveness? Could we award certain tax breaks for companies that enter into partnership with supported-employment enterprises? That might even be within the competence of the Scottish Government.

It is important to put forward such ideas, and I do not think that Bill Kidd and I are just flying kites.

We are presenting our ideas, and they should be listened to.

As regards the future of supported-employment workplaces, we are working within certain rules that tie our hands behind our backs, but we should consider every possibility that might help to achieve the desired aim of everyone in the chamber, regardless of their political party.

Bill Kidd and Frank McAveety mentioned Blindcraft. Have representatives of the City of Edinburgh Council spoken to their counterparts in Glasgow City Council? They should perhaps do that. Blindcraft Glasgow seems to be very successful—it is making a profit just now and it is working well. Perhaps that could be reciprocated in Edinburgh.

We must remove the barriers that are faced by people who go into supported employment. The aim of public bodies having contracts with supported workplaces is really worthy. I agree with Helen Eadie that many companies could work with them, and we should leave no stone unturned in that regard. The aim is worthy, and I hope that we achieve it sooner rather than later.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party 11:01 am, 7th October 2010

This is a serious subject, but it has a fairly narrow focus. I hope that members do not come away from the debate thinking that article 19 is a silver bullet that will solve all the problems that are associated with sheltered workshops. There is a history of challenges in this area, whether in Remploy workshops or in those that form part of the Blindcraft group—which is not actually a group, as the Blindcraft facilities have grown up independently in different parts of Scotland. The history of Blindcraft shows that a number of facilities went some time ago.

We need a financially sustainable, competitive business model that actually works. That is not to say that there should not be an element of support, as we have some social responsibility here, but it cannot be unlimited.

I am always impressed by Helen Eadie's passion and commitment to this subject. She articulates well the arguments in favour of continuing this type of work. However, I gently point out to her that part of the wider debate was initiated by the major review of Remploy's sheltered workshop facilities throughout Scotland a few short years ago, which resulted in 17 factories closing throughout the UK and 11 factories merging. As part of the campaign that was successfully run by the unions and interested politicians, 15 factories were saved, including all those in Scotland. However, that was against the background of a programme that would lead to a reduction in support per member of staff from £18,000 per annum to £9,000 per annum by 31 March 2013. Some factories in the Remploy group required £48,000 per annum in support for individual members of staff.

That is part of a general shift in an attempt to cherry pick—in some people's minds—the easier members of society who are disabled and get them into the workforce, and to move away from the idea of sheltered workshops towards the inclusion of disabled people in the mainstream workforce. That may well be a worthy and sensible aim, but we have to consider it in the wider context. That issue is part and parcel of the debate.

We should not look just at the use of article 19. That can be an important part of the weaponry that is available to ensure that sheltered workshops have a sustainable future, but it is not the only thing that needs to happen. I remember well the campaign to save the Remploy factory in Aberdeen, when I, along with a range of other politicians, engaged with the public and private sectors in an attempt to generate financially sustainable business models that would work. Thankfully, at least in the short term, that has worked but, unfortunately, there are no guarantees for the future. We cannot ignore the general financial climate. There is a business downturn, which will impact on sheltered workshops.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

Does Brian Adam agree that for Remploy in Aberdeen and for many of the other sheltered workshops to which he refers, use of article 19 on public procurement offers the quickest method for this Parliament and this Government to make a difference?

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

It is not up to just the Parliament and the Government to make a difference; it is up to all of us to make a difference. I fully accept that use of article 19 is part of the weaponry, but I do not wish it to be seen as the only thing that needs to happen. Even when we intend to use article 19, we need to be sure that all the partners are involved, not just the Government. The Government does not do everything at its own hand. We must ensure, as the Government set out in its plans, which were published in "A Working Life for All Disabled People: The Supported Employment Framework for Scotland", that we engage with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to ensure that councils play their part when they procure and that NHS boards—which Helen Eadie rightly drew attention to—and a range of Government bodies do the same.

In addition, we need to follow the example of the work that has been done with Glencraft in Aberdeen by ensuring that the private sector, through its corporate social responsibility, engages in that process, and we must encourage places such as Glencraft and Blindcraft in Glasgow and Edinburgh to look at appropriate niche markets and to engage with the private sector to fill them, which will give a better opportunity for a sustainable future.

Frank McAveety's call for the Government to leave a legacy was completely appropriate, but he omitted to mention that it has already left such a legacy, because we have changed the set-up for Glencraft in Aberdeen.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

It is not totally out of the woods yet, but the social enterprise approach that has been adopted has significant public and private sector support. I think that that model could be used elsewhere—for Blindcraft in Edinburgh or Glasgow, for example. A level of co-operation between those organisations would be appropriate.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat 11:08 am, 7th October 2010

I have listened to the debate with great interest for a reason that members will be aware of, which is that my wife is disabled, so disability issues are important to me and my family.

I felt that the minister, Lewis Macdonald, correctly identified the problem.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat

I am so sorry—Lewis Macdonald spoke on behalf of the Labour Party; I am used to thinking back to days gone by.

He said that our concern today was the future of disabled workers, and he called for a disabled workers champion, which we could consider in the fullness of time.

Jim Mather—let me get this right—the minister, said that we must find ways of supporting such businesses. He, along with Lewis Macdonald and other members, mentioned the crucial article 19 and the issue of 50 per cent of the workforce being disabled. He talked about promoting the products that such people produce and the importance of producing what we need to buy.

In his intervention, George Foulkes encouraged the minister to hold a meeting on the situation of Blindcraft in Edinburgh involving all parties. I think that his proposal was accepted by the minister and by my colleague Mike Pringle later in the debate. I believe that a conciliatory approach to such matters is being adopted in the Parliament, which must be welcomed.

Gavin Brown talked about a timetable for ensuring that contracts are in place and said that it must be a real timetable for real events rather than just talk. He argued that information about article 19 must be disseminated as broadly as possible. In his intervention on Gavin Brown, which was about subcontracting, Brian Adam asked whether the use of article 19 should be mentioned in the tender documents. As I am not a lawyer, I cannot answer that, but ministers might need to consider that point and to take legal advice. Gavin Brown also said that participants must be active and enthusiastic. That is hugely important, and I will return to that turn of phrase when I conclude.

Mike Pringle touched on the financial situation that is faced by the city councils in Aberdeen and Edinburgh. He told us that Edinburgh City Council had commenced the 30-day consultation procedure with staff at Blindcraft, which he said had been agreed by the unions. He said that Blindcraft was not a charity and made an issue of the economic reality of the situation in which we are living. He concluded by making two important points: he said that we must not prejudge the consultation and that we must support the staff at all costs.

Sarah Boyack—who is no longer in the chamber—made an impassioned plea from the heart and, in a tremendously detailed speech, Ian McKee made particular reference to the financial background. Bill Kidd made an equally impassioned but perhaps more thoughtful contribution. As for Helen Eadie, all that I can do is tell managers of public services to get the sandbags out if they see her coming up their path. There is no doubt about her commitment to and her strength of feeling on the issue.

John Park's account of a constituent of his who spent nearly £3,000 in getting an HGV licence and then found numerous barriers in his way surely touched us all. Hugh O'Donnell harked back to what Gavin Brown had said when he asked how we could guide the organisations in question in getting on to tender lists.

Maureen Watt made a very interesting speech in which she described how Glencraft has gone private, apparently successfully. Brian Adam touched on that, too. I know that my colleague Mike Pringle has already spoken to Councillor Paul Edie of the City of Edinburgh Council to establish whether we can replicate in Edinburgh what has been done in Aberdeen. That is extremely important, and it will be looked at and discussed.

Brian Adam made two important points. First, he said that we must be careful to ensure that we do not all view the use of article 19 as some sort of silver bullet. That is true, because it will not necessarily be a cure-all. Secondly, he reminded us of the reality that the business model must work.

That takes me to my concluding point, which harks back to Gavin Brown's point that participants should be active and enthusiastic. I am sure that many other members have, like me, bought a Blindcraft bed. In fact, I have two of them and can vouch for their high quality. A parallel can be drawn with the fair trade movement, the great success of which some of our Labour colleagues have been behind. It reached out to people's consciences and encouraged them to buy fair trade products by saying that, in doing so, they would help. We know that the fair trade products that are on sale in the Co-op are not always the cheapest, but they are good and gradually all of us have been converted to fair trade chocolate and other products. I think that there is a wish to do the best among people in this country. If we can do what we did with fair trade products, by getting the idea into people's consciousness and getting it to touch their consciences, with the products that Blindcraft, Glencraft and other organisations that employ disabled people produce, we can underwrite their success. That way, we will do what Brian Adam urged—make a business model that works.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 11:15 am, 7th October 2010

A number of points of view have been expressed and a number of constructive suggestions have been made in the debate, which has been interesting and largely consensual. However, I detect that, although all members are completely in line with the direction of travel, there are concerns about the speed of travel. We require to address that issue.

The debate, which is to do with article 19 of the EU public procurement directive and all its ramifications, is important. In his opening speech, Lewis Macdonald constructively highlighted the importance of employment in supported employment workplaces. We are talking about 800 jobs. Lewis Macdonald highlighted that a high proportion of disabled persons are unemployed, and Bill Kidd underlined that point. Therefore, there is undoubtedly a value in supported employment workplaces, and that value affects those who are directly employed in them as well as their families.

Supported work environments are a complex issue. We know that people who are disadvantaged through disability find it difficult to secure meaningful employment and that supported work environments such as those at Glencraft and Remploy offer jobs to people who would find it very difficult to get employment elsewhere. They also offer much more meaningful employment than the kinds of job that would be offered to that group of people in the conventional jobs market. People who work in such enterprises feel safe, are able to benefit from peer group association and, of course, receive on-going support. Those factors are critical in keeping them involved and are of great benefit to them and the wider community.

As I said, there is dissatisfaction with the speed of travel. That is why we are at pains to state that the principle of a timetable is correct. Gavin Brown stated that clearly in his speech. It is important to move the debate on. We need to consider the issue of tender documents and the involvement of subcontractors. However, it is important to stress that we are looking for active rather than reluctant partners, because we will get the results that we all seek to achieve only when we take people with us.

Helen Eadie raised a number of issues in her impassioned speech. She will be pleased to learn that I, too, have deliberately bought furniture from Blindcraft and have been extremely satisfied with it. However, the issue is that there seems to be a general unawareness of article 19. I know that the Government has taken steps to make more people aware of it, but we will have to be much more in the faces of local authorities and other public bodies if we are to succeed.

Sandra White made several interesting suggestions, but perhaps she misled us slightly on the target date of 30 November. I know that that was entirely inadvertent. That target date is included in the "Scottish Sustainable Procurement Action Plan", but it is the target date for developing the strategy, not for its implementation. If that were the implementation date, I think that there would be wider satisfaction around the chamber.

John Park and other members raised the issue of awareness of article 19. He also raised the issue of finances, as did Frank McAveety. The value of public procurement depends on the basis on which it is calculated. The figure may be £5 billion or £9 billion—Frank McAveety mentioned that figure. Even if we took the value as being £5 billion, and 1 per cent of that were to go to such organisations, that would be £50 million. That would provide a turnover for the 24 supported workplaces in Scotland and the effect of the money would be significant.

There is consensus around the chamber, but we need to move things on much more vigorously, otherwise we could see a highly disadvantaged section of our population that currently has the chance to fulfil important individual and collective roles not being able to fulfil those roles to the extent that it is doing.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party 11:20 am, 7th October 2010

Earlier, I set out a range of actions that the Government is taking to provide a better future for our supported employers and the people they serve—employees and the wider community. Having heard members' speeches, I want to reiterate a few points.

The Government is taking action to deliver on the potential of article 19. We are working hard on our intention that every public sector body should have a contract with a supported employer, using article 19. We will bring forward a timetable for that. The Scottish procurement directorate is making that happen by promoting the potential of supported employment organisations, and we will deliver even more for supported workplaces and the public sector over time by further developing the capability of public contracts Scotland. We are also making more of community benefit clauses. Supported employers are a key and identifiable recipient of our broader suite of support to social enterprises.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

I very much welcome the minister's commitment to bring forward a timetable, but when does he expect to do that?

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

We will do it bearing in mind the caveats that Gavin Brown and other members have mentioned. Gavin Brown suggested that an early, arbitrary date might not be right. We want to optimise the balance of speed and materiality. We do not want tokenism; rather, we want to be real, and we want people to realise the totality that is available. A lot has already been done to get out the message about what is available, and I hope that the people of Scotland, let alone our public bodies, take account of that. We are keen to ensure that we handle matters in a way that means that we generate more successful businesses that are able to adapt, innovate, evolve and align with customers. To achieve that end, I firmly believe that consensus is crucial.

Members may have seen on the news today that Archbishop Tutu has retired. We should bear in mind his efforts to get truth, reconciliation and a new beginning for a whole country. Perhaps that is what we need for supported businesses. Many multiple truths have been expressed in the chamber. We need to align them with a common goal to help us to achieve the resilient models that we want to see in our businesses.

The majority of speeches have been very much along that line. Lewis Macdonald got to the nub of the matter. He considered the impact of supported businesses on people and the benefits that they can deliver in enabling people to contribute in a fundamental way.

I am a great fan of Marcus Buckingham, whose big proposition is that we all have strengths. The great thing about supported businesses is that they give people strengths and resilience from having a sense of purpose in life. We are good at finding problems and we are getting better at solving them, but we need to celebrate successes. The successes of Remploy and Glencraft in Aberdeen are there to be understood, replicated and taken forward. They should be part of the solution along with article 19 and other elements.

I was taken by Gavin Brown's speech, which was thoughtful. We do not want people to have a tick-box mentality that means that they will buy one bed or one desk that is produced in a supported employment workplace and feel themselves to be in a state of grace; we want a meaningful relationship. We want to seek to help and progressively grow the sector as a joint venture involving the Scottish Government, local authorities, public bodies and Scotland plc. We need to remember the dangers of command and control, and that things can go awry.

I was equally taken by Mike Pringle's contribution. Mike identified and opened up the human side of the issue: the welfare, mental health and physical implications, and the fact that people have more autonomy and choice in their lives. It was at that point that George Foulkes intervened, on the issue of Blindcraft. I reiterate my commitment to seeing what we can do on that. The key issue there is to get everyone in the room. During the debate I have made a list of the people who should be there, including the local authority, the Department for Work and Pensions, customers, suppliers, other public sector players, the hospitality sector, the Scottish Social Enterprise Coalition, Glencraft, philanthropists, retired tradesmen, managers and teachers, unions, Social Firms Scotland, councils for voluntary service, Jobcentre Plus, Skills Development Scotland, other private sector companies and Scottish Enterprise.

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour

I welcome the minister's reaffirmation that he will bring all the interests together. In view of the fact that we are now in the 30-day consultation period, will he assure us that that will be done as quickly as possible?

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

Yes. I will do my level best. Next week is recess and I would be prepared to put time into that. As always, when I run a stakeholder event, everyone must be involved in making it happen. Making someone het is not necessarily the answer. We do it together, and we can do it constructively.

Sarah Boyack started by expressing her deep disappointment. We have to move forward from a blame game mentality on an issue such as this. I refuse to be defensive in this climate. We are doing a great deal and we will do more.

Johann Lamont raised the issue of the Southern general. I can tell her that the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde contract has used community benefit clauses, and 10 per cent of the workforce will be new entrant trainees. The contractor, Brookfield, is working with the Scottish Government on the ready for business programme to identify subcontracting opportunities for social enterprises. Positive and constructive things are happening.

Ian McKee was another voice seeking sustainability and in favour of supported businesses identifying future needs together with their customers. We very much welcome that. John Park made a point that I had been keen to make about broadcasting what is working and promoting the toolkit in a positive way.

Maureen Watt described the excellent lessons from Glencraft. I reiterate that we should have Glencraft in the room when we talk to Blindcraft in Edinburgh.

The contribution that struck me most came from Frank McAveety. He hit the right note when he talked about the wagon train mentality of Mario Cuomo—a mentality that we totally reject. There is a new book out by two guys whose father was a lecturer at Anderson college in Glasgow. Called "The Puritan Gift: Reclaiming the American Dream Amidst Global Financial Chaos", it essentially makes the point that the more we come together in common cause, and the more we try to promote the strength of our society, the more we will lift all the boats and move things forward. Frank McAveety's comment about legacy strikes a chord with all of us.

A guy called Steven Pinker makes the great observation that the one thing that drives all of us, whether it is the razor king or John Harvey-Jones, is the desire for peer group esteem. There is a chance for the Parliament to have peer group esteem on this issue. There is a chance for all of us to play our part. I was interested in Frank McAveety's proposition and in what he was trying to do in Dalmarnock to allow resources to remain there. We have been trying that in Argyll and Bute. Equally, we pass audit on both of his choices on Edinburgh and strategy.

All in all, it has been a useful debate. A lot has come out of it; it has been cathartic. Now is the time for Scotland and supported businesses to move on. We will do that best by doing it together.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

I call Johann Lamont to conclude the debate. You have until 11:40.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour 11:29 am, 7th October 2010

You leave me to do the sums, then.

I repeat my earlier apologies to the Presiding Officer's office. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was slightly late for the beginning of the debate. I was delighted not to miss any speeches, other than part of the speech by my colleague Lewis Macdonald [Laughter.] I had a good sense of what he was going to say, so it was fine.

This is an important debate but we must put it in context. In their briefings, Leonard Cheshire Disability and others reflected that challenging the scandalous level of unemployment among people with disabilities must be about more than tackling the issue of sheltered workplaces. I could not agree more. There is a demonstration today in the Parliament highlighting the need to recognise the human rights of disabled people at a time when budget choices are being made.

That understanding of the broader context of the needs of disabled people has meant that we on this side of the chamber continue to press for a skills strategy that understands inequality in the workplace, the lack of opportunity for people and the challenges faced by disabled people in particular. That is why we have been so critical of the single outcome agreement process. I am sure that Bill Kidd will agree that the Government has persistently refused to ensure that single outcome agreements that determine spending in local authorities are equality impact assessed. If that is not done, how can we ensure that the needs of disabled people in relation to education, employment strategies and every local authority service are being met, and that the political choices that are currently being made do not disproportionately disadvantage people with disabilities?

That is the reason for our commitment to the broader issues of disability and it is why we continue to express concern that the changed role for Scottish Enterprise means that it is not working to address the employment needs of people with disabilities in the way that it might have done in the past.

We look to Westminster with dread as we see the downgrading of a commitment to tackle inequality and the possible dismantling of the bodies that monitor progress in equality. Not only is it possible that people will be more disadvantaged, but there will be no machinery to ensure that decisions on that are challenged.

However, the fact that we cannot do everything does not mean that we cannot do anything. I was surprised by the defensiveness of some members in their speeches. Dr McKee, especially, seemed to expend more energy on explaining why things could not be done than on considering the positives. That is in sharp contrast to Frank McAveety's contribution, in which he explained precisely how someone who has political power can make political choices that can make a difference.

It is disappointing that action on supported workplaces, using article 19, has not been properly recognised. Despite what the minister said, I remain disappointed that the huge project at the Southern general has done so little. The minister says that it is a problem if we make one person het. I say to the minister that he is het. He is the minister. He has the capacity—a capacity that some of us long for—to drive things forward. We want the Government to lead by example. The minister is not a dispassionate observer of what is happening at Blindcraft and how we can make a difference using article 19.

There is a huge issue about mainstreaming employment opportunities for people with disabilities. We should challenge employers on their disgraceful record. We owe it to people who work in sheltered workplaces not to say, "You can only go that way." We must recognise that there is the opportunity to go either way.

I accept what Gavin Brown said about the importance of debating in measured tones. I am a good example of how that is done. However, I wonder whether people in the disabled community sometimes feel that our measured tones reflect complacency. No member would want that.

In the Tory amendment, Gavin Brown talks about balance and the importance of reflecting the challenges for some public bodies. We recognise that and we would hope that the timetable would reflect the fact that some bodies will be unable to move as quickly as others. However, that must not slow the process down; we must recognise the power of the measure. We understand the differences among various bodies, but we expect speedy action from the minister on publishing the timetable.

We do not want Gavin Brown's amendment to be a get-out clause, but we acknowledge that in speaking he made a number of positive suggestions about subcontractors and, on that basis, we can support his amendment.

Mike Pringle talked about how difficult it is to support sheltered workplaces in tough economic times, but the reality is that when we are in tough economic times, because of what is happening at a UK level, people with disabilities are particularly vulnerable. We must do more and not use the economic situation as an explanation for doing less. Tackling inequality is not a task just for when the sun shines; at this time, we need even more positive action to meet the needs of disadvantaged groups.

Ian McKee made the same point. He said that we are in tough times and so perhaps we should expect that the more vulnerable people will suffer. However, that should be not an excuse for not acting, but an imperative to act. The implication of what Ian McKee said is that we are talking about good works, charity and doing people a favour. It is not about that; it is about allowing people a level playing field on which they can show and prove their potential. In a decent society, we owe it to people with disabilities to support them; it is not a question of our feeling good about offering them an opportunity, in the way that was suggested.

Photo of Ian McKee Ian McKee Scottish National Party

The implication of what I said in my speech is that when the hard times come, there is little point in continuing to subsidise the production of something for which the market is falling. We should be devising sustainable ways of changing patterns so that the needs of the future—not of the past—are considered.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

In tough times, the Government should redouble its efforts to make a difference and should use the powers that it has to do that.

I agree absolutely with Bill Kidd in commending Glasgow City Council and its work through the Commonwealth group and City Building, but we know that it did not happen by accident. It happened because active political choices were made.

We can make a difference to disabled people through the use of specific contracts and I was disturbed by the minister's blinkered view, which he has given in Parliament before, that the Scottish Government does not really need anything that sheltered workplaces make. If there was a disabled champion in the Government, they would look at the contracts, speak to the sheltered workplaces and have a dialogue about the potential for them to meet the Scottish Government's desires. I made a point about the concerns about the Southern general hospital, where a huge opportunity was missed.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

I wonder whether the member heard me talk about the Southern general in specific terms. If she did not, she can refer to the Official Report .

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

I listened all too carefully. I accept that the Government has used community benefit clauses; what I am saying is that not one contract has been reserved under article 19. A huge opportunity, which would have increased the benefits that come from the community benefit clauses, has been missed.

No one is in favour of tokenism, but if every public body in Scotland reserved one contract to a sheltered workplace, let us imagine the difference that that would make to the workplaces and what it would tell the public body about how things can be done. It would make a seismic change that would move such contracts from tokenism to common practice.

There is a broader issue about understanding the power of the public purse to drive change and create opportunities, especially at a time of economic difficulties. The idea that public spending is problematic is promulgated at a UK level, but we know that public investment can stimulate private sector activity. In housing, for example, the Scottish Government rightly brought forward its budget because the private sector understood that public money could sustain jobs and skills in the short term. It is simply not good enough for ministers—this is a feature of the SNP—to go on at length about what they care about and develop strategies and then not do the hard work of delivering on those strategies. It is a question of tough action and getting the contracts in place. That, rather than reflecting on the discussion and explaining how somebody else is not doing the work, is how we can make a difference.

With a budget of £8 billion, the reservation of one contract—possibly—is abject failure and it speaks of the values and priorities of the Scottish Government. It is hardly surprising when the Government's entire mindset is to talk about the powers that the Parliament does not have. The Government should use the powers that it has to create economic opportunity and to drive good practice into the private sector.

We will support both amendments because of the key recognition that the Government has not done enough so far and that a timetable will be produced. This is not a question of tokenism. The minister said that the Government does not rely on article 19 alone, but the problem is that it does not rely on it at all. That is about its priorities.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

I will make just this last point.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

The minister mentioned Donald Dewar. Donald Dewar understood that we get power to make a difference to people's lives. The Government should use the power that it has to make the difference and to support sheltered workplaces.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

That concludes the debate on the future of Scotland's supported employment workplaces.