Remploy (United Kingdom Government Response)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 22nd March 2012.

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Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-02431, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on the United Kingdom Government’s response on the future of Remploy.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

In November 2007, the then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Peter Hain, approved a five-year modernisation programme, which resulted in the closure of 29 sites, including one in Hillington in Scotland. In 2010—three years into that five-year process—the current UK Government commissioned Liz Sayce of Disability Rights UK to undertake a review of specialist disability employment support by the Department for Work and Pensions. That review resulted in the DWP’s decision to move Remploy out of Government ownership and close four of the nine remaining factories in Scotland, with the loss of 111 jobs and putting a further 251 jobs at risk.

The Scottish Government is deeply disappointed by that decision and the manner in which it was made. We are seeing a steady erosion of supported employment support by the UK Government. In today’s challenging labour market, finding a job in any circumstances can be challenging; that is doubly so for disabled people.

It is true that most disabled people in Scotland do not work in a supported business, but it is also true that, for some, working in a supported environment may be their only chance of accessing employment. We know that supported employment can be very effective in helping disabled people into work, so we remain firmly committed to the implementation of the supported employment framework in Scotland, which we published in February 2010.

Although we recognise that many people in supported employment in Scotland do not work in supported businesses, we simply cannot underestimate the impact that supported businesses across Scotland have on those who work in them and their families. Information that Scotland’s supported businesses provided last year suggested that more than 1,600 disabled people are employed by supported businesses in Scotland, including in Erskine, Remploy, Forth Sector and Haven Products. However, there is no doubt that some of those businesses are struggling, and I want to ensure that we are taking steps to support those businesses where we can.

I attended an event in February.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I want to ask about the Scottish Government’s support—its strategy to procure goods from supported employment factories. Where that happens consistently—some local authorities are ahead of the game—there is fantastic support, but that is not universal. In Edinburgh, we have lost Blindcraft and we are going to lose Remploy. There is a real issue in the east of Scotland.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I will deal with that matter in more detail later, but the member has a point. There is patchiness. At the event in February to which I was referring, I heard from a business in Lanarkshire—Beltane Products—that had excellent support. Obviously, we would like to see that level of support replicated across the way, but I will come back to that and talk more about it.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Does the minister accept that most disability charities believe that the sheltered factory model that Remploy has pursued is now out of date and that the money could be better spent elsewhere? That fact was reported in no less a paper than The Guardian just two weeks ago. If the Scottish Government’s position is that those factories should not close—from listening to the minister, that appears to be its position—will it step in and make up the funding?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

There are various questions there. I will deal with the first point. I recognise that charities that are involved in assisting people with a disability have different views on these matters, and it would be wrong for me to spend too much time characterising them. I hope that the rest of my remarks will address the other points that the member made.

In order to do what we can, we will shortly commission a review of Scotland’s supported businesses. I have asked that it be taken forward as quickly as possible to ensure that we offer as much support as we can to Scotland’s supported businesses in the coming months. The meeting in February helped—and was partly designed and intended—to determine the content of the review. In other words, the Government did not say of the review, “This is the way it is going to be.” We asked people who are involved in Remploy and the other businesses to share in the construction of the remit for the review. It was clear that those who attended the meeting believed that the review should involve a mixture of individual site visits and thematic seminars to allow people to come together and share knowledge and information.

Among the support available to third sector bodies is that provided by the just enterprise consortium, which was launched in July 2011 and which involves a budget of £3 million over three years. It provides business support and learning services to enterprising third sector organisations to enable their development. To date, more than 500 organisations from all the local authority areas in Scotland have been approved to receive business support through the programme, although a relatively small number of supported businesses have applied for support—I should make that clear. Just enterprise support complements the economic development infrastructure in Scotland—Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the business gateway.

Those Remploy businesses that are looking to move to a social enterprise model could benefit from the just enterprise programme. They could also make use of the services to support the third sector and to develop volunteering through the network of local third sector interfaces. Should they show the potential to successfully adopt the social enterprise model, they could become eligible for direct funding through our programme of investment, which is expected to become available next year.

I turn to public sector procurement. It is clear that the key to the sustainability of supported businesses in Scotland is the ability to bring in business. We are certain that supported businesses can make a valuable contribution to the economy, and we have been working with them to realise that ambition. The sustainable procurement action plan asks all Scottish public bodies to have a strategy for awarding at least one contract to a supported business or factory under the provisions of article 19 of the European public procurement directive.

Photo of Jenny Marra Jenny Marra Labour

Is the minister prepared to mandate Scottish National Party local authorities to ensure that they use article 19 to give direct contracts to supported businesses such as Remploy?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

It is not for me to determine what local government should do at this point. I have already said that the plan asks each public body to award at least one contract to a supported business or factory. Knowing, as I do, councillors across all parties in Scotland, I am sure that every councillor in every party or none wants to do all that they can in this area.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I ask the member to let me carry on, because I am about to cover many of the matters that, I imagine, will be of interest to her and others.

In contrast to the way in which Westminster has handled the matter, we in the Scottish Government believe that more can be done to examine and analyse the future of supported businesses in Scotland. First, we introduced the supplier finder directory, which allows buyers to search for supported businesses to fulfil a contract. Secondly, we changed public contracts Scotland, the online portal for finding public sector work, so that buyers are automatically alerted whenever a supported business can fulfil the requirements of the planned contract, and they are offered the facility to reserve the contract under article 19. Thirdly, we have provided free tender-writing workshops to supported businesses and other third sector organisations. Those measures will not, in themselves, be the answer to all the questions, but nonetheless they are all practical, meaningful and necessary steps.

There are further steps. In 2010, we worked with the British Association for Supported Employment to publish a brochure that promotes Scotland’s supported businesses. This year, we will put in place a framework reserved contract for supported businesses and factories. The framework will be open for use by the entire Scottish public sector and it will include contracts for furniture, document management and textiles, including uniforms. I am advised that the framework will be in place by the autumn.

Finally, during the current session of Parliament, we will introduce a sustainable procurement bill. In consultation, we want to consider what further measures might be appropriate to assist supported businesses in Scotland as part of that bill. That is a significant step forward. Never will it have been easier for public bodies to award contracts to supported businesses. I hope that all parties will support that measure. We expect the contract notice and invitation to tender documents to be published in the coming weeks. This is no handout or sympathy vote. If they wish to get public contracts, the firms will have to demonstrate that they can offer the taxpayer value for money. Members should be in no doubt about the professionalism, capability and dynamism of Scotland’s supported businesses and factories; I have every confidence in them. I am clear that we want as many Remploy employees as possible and the services that they provide to be a part of the process.

On the Remploy DWP support package, the UK Government’s decision on Remploy is nothing short of a devastating blow to those who are involved. It is not just about individual employees; the loss of jobs will have a profound effect on their families. Last Thursday, I met Maria Miller to discuss the matter. This week, I have met trade union representatives from Remploy. At my meeting with the UK minister, I made it clear that I expect the DWP to provide every support to Remploy staff whose workplaces might close, and to do so for as long as necessary.

Photo of Mark McDonald Mark McDonald Scottish National Party

During the minister’s discussions, was the issue of asset transfer raised? In Aberdeen, the opportunity to secure the building to develop social enterprise models in future would be a welcome boost. Has that been raised, or will the minister consider raising it in future?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Those issues were broadly discussed and, indeed, that is the final major item that I will cover in the time that remains available to me.

The UK minister and I agreed that we need to work co-operatively to get the very best possible outcomes for Remploy employees in Scotland, whether they move to new jobs or get involved in new businesses that arise on the existing sites, to answer Mark McDonald’s point. When I met the trade union representatives this week, we agreed that every effort should be made to seek viable business alternatives for those sites. The DWP support is all about helping people to move out; we want to look at what is there and consider what new enterprises could be grown from the existing sites and equipment and, most important, the skills of the Remploy workers.

To that end, I have agreed with Scottish Enterprise that, along with key partners, it will engage with those who are involved to analyse and provide support to anyone with an interest in the businesses, whether it be employees, private businesses, or social enterprise. Scottish Enterprise stands ready to consider any realistic proposal that might emerge. To support that work, I also asked the DWP to provide us with any information that could assist employees, third sector businesses and agencies in securing alternative business models or future employment for the Remploy workforce. There might be bids from organisations to take over the sites or equipment. I also asked the DWP to make sure that the Scottish Government is part of any process to assess those bids. It remains to be seen whether the package of support that the DWP is offering will be sufficient to help those who want to find alternative employment.

I intend to monitor the work every step of the way. I want to mobilise whatever Scottish services are necessary through our partnership action for continuing employment team, and I believe that PACE could be the best conduit for the DWP support package. I believe that Remploy will meet PACE representatives soon to discuss the offer of support, and we await a decision from Maria Miller on that. I will meet the chairman of Remploy tomorrow and Angela Constance will meet Remploy next week.

I genuinely hope that we can all work together to get positive outcomes for everyone concerned from this very challenging situation.

I move,

That the Parliament is deeply disappointed by the UK Government’s decision to close four Remploy factories in Scotland with the loss of 111 jobs and to place the future of five further factories, affecting a further 251 people, in doubt; notes that the Scottish Government has requested information from the Department for Work and Pensions that could assist employees, the third sector, business and agencies in securing alternative business models, demonstrating a sustainable future for the remaining factories and ensuring future employment for the Remploy workforce; further notes that, should alternative solutions not be found, support for individuals should be directed through Partnership Action for Continuing Employment (PACE) in partnership with JobCentre Plus; welcomes the actions taken by the Scottish Government to increase public sector contracting opportunities with supported businesses, accounting for £24.1 million in 2010-11, and looks forward to the delivery of the framework for the provision of goods through supported businesses, which includes provision of textiles and furniture.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I am pleased that the Scottish Government and the Parliament have found time to debate the future of Remploy. For several years, members from across the chamber have raised on-going concerns but, as a result of the current highly controversial proposals that the Conservatives at Westminster have announced, the issue has now come to a head.

The recent review of disability employment that the UK Government commissioned and which was led by Liz Sayce tried to frame the debate as a choice between two models of employment—the traditional model that Remploy has offered of providing supported jobs for people with disabilities in a factory setting versus a focus on helping disadvantaged people into mainstream or open employment. The review came down forcefully on the side of the latter option and the Conservative Government has followed up on the report’s recommendations through the current plans to close 36 of Remploy’s 54 factories across the UK, including four in Scotland, with an expectation that the remaining factories will also close.

As campaigners, employees, trade unionists and elected representatives from all sides have pointed out, that is a false division and choice. There should not be an either/or decision between supported and open employment. Of course it is right that adults with disabilities or learning difficulties should have every opportunity to work in a mainstream setting. In fact, although we have come a long way in recent decades, further progress clearly must be made if we are to overcome the discrimination and other barriers that stand in the way of equal treatment of all our fellow citizens. However, whatever the mainstream or open employment options, many people’s active and positive choice will be to continue to work in a more sheltered environment.

Furthermore, the closure proposals ignore the role of Remploy factories as an avenue into mainstream employment. Many individuals gain the confidence, experience and training that they require to enter the marketplace through their work in Remploy factories, but that avenue is to be closed off.

Perhaps most worrying of all, the Government’s decision makes no allowance for the practical reality of today’s employment market, in which almost 0.25 million people are unemployed across Scotland and more than 2.5 million are unemployed across the UK. More important, in that market, despite changing attitudes and stronger legal rights, fewer than half of all disabled individuals are likely to be in a job, compared with 80 per cent of able-bodied workers. There is no evidence whatever to suggest that closing Remploy’s factories will improve the employment prospects of people with disabilities in Scotland or the rest of the UK, but there is every reason to think that it will make matters worse.

As several colleagues did, I spoke to Remploy employees at their demonstration in Edinburgh this morning. I welcome those of them who have joined us in the public gallery this afternoon. What came across to me loud and clear was the fear and anxiety that the proposals have generated. This is not a consultation; it is a 12-week redundancy notice. Many of the men and women who are affected are in their 50s and have never worked outside Remploy. What chance do they have of securing employment or of competing with displaced graduates and the thousands of others who have been forced into the marketplace in the difficult economic circumstances that we all face? One of the men on the demonstration this morning thrust a letter into my hand, which is a series of questions to ministers in the Scottish and UK Governments. One of the questions is:

“if ten able bodied people are chasing the same job as a disabled person, what are the chances for the disabled person getting that job?”

The anxiety is palpable.

I draw a parallel between the current focus on mainstreaming jobs at the expense of supported employment with the inclusion agenda that was pursued in the area of additional support for learning, particularly when it was first introduced. I agree that we want to challenge the reduced expectations of work and the limited career ambitions that we as a society have imposed on disabled people in the past, just as we have challenged that in our school system. However, rather than look on Remploy factories as segregated institutions, it might be more accurate and helpful to see them as supportive environments. Just as we rebalanced our view on inclusion and additional support for learning and recognised that there was an on-going role for special schools while giving all children the option of mainstreaming, so we should continue to support disabled people in every workplace while maintaining sheltered and specialist workshops and factories for those who want and need them.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I welcome the tone of Mr Macintosh’s speech and I find his arguments interesting. Did he raise similar arguments and concerns when Peter Hain in the previous Administration at Westminster announced the closure of 28 Remploy factories in 2007?

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I wish that Mr Fraser had echoed my tone. The point about Mr Hain’s review was that it absolutely followed the model that I have set out. It considered the difficulties of modernising Remploy, bringing it up to date and making it more sustainable in today’s environment, while maintaining a secure future. It was all about modernising Remploy factories and sustaining their future. There was an investment of £550 million and a five-year programme, not the 12-week redundancy notice that we have now. I hope that Mr Fraser will start his speech with an apology for the anxiety that that has caused.

Does anyone in the chamber need to be reminded of the importance of employment to not only people’s income and standard of living, but their self-esteem, health, education and prospects, and their hopes and dreams for the future? Yes, we should try to improve the efficiency within Remploy—lots of suggestions for that have been made by the trade unions and others—but to make decisions about the future of the factories simply on the basis of their supposed profitability misses the point of the social and economic costs of their closure. The vast majority of former employees—more than 80 per cent—who took voluntary redundancy from Remploy three years ago are still unemployed and claiming benefits.

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

Does Mr Macintosh agree that many of the Remploy factories, including the one in Aberdeen, have moved forward in trying to create social enterprise hubs? They have also attracted support from private business. Does he agree that that is a way forward and something that we should be encouraging instead of closing the factories?

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I do, and I thank Mr FitzPatrick for that.

Members: Mr Stewart.

Sorry—I beg your pardon, Mr Stewart. That is a terrible thing to do, and I have done it twice in one week now. I should know better after what happened with Mr Miliband. [Laughter.] I thank Mr Stewart for those comments, and I turn to what we can do practically to help.

On the basis of the evidence and past experience, it strikes me that political will is hugely important. I will be honest: when I heard that the debate was coming up, I thought that we, as the Opposition, had chosen the motion. I was slightly surprised to hear that the SNP had chosen it. I am not trying to apportion blame; however, when Blindcraft was threatened with closure, there was an expectation that the Scottish Government would intervene but it chose not to. On the other hand, when Glencraft was threatened with closure and there was a lot of political unrest, the Scottish Government intervened. There are political choices to be made.

Photo of Mark McDonald Mark McDonald Scottish National Party

I hesitate to say it, but I think that Mr Macintosh has oversimplified the process at Glencraft, which involved more than just the Government intervening. There was private sector and local authority support as well, which was the key to saving Glencraft—it was not simply the fact that the Government intervened.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

You are in your last minute, Mr Macintosh.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

It is quite right that the Glencraft process involved the Government and the local authority; that was missing in Edinburgh’s case. My point is that there are political choices to be made and political leadership can be shown.

The most obvious tool that ministers can call on is article 19 of the EU public procurement directive, which exists specifically so that contracts can be given to organisations in which more than 50 per cent of the workers have a disability. Royal Strathclyde Blindcraft Industries is showing, through its contracts with Glasgow City Council, exactly how the sector can be led.

At the demonstration today, I met somebody from the Remploy factory in Springburn who told me that it is the sole maker of wheelchairs in the whole of the UK—not the sole supported employer, but the sole maker—and it is now, for the first time, on the list as an approved supplier; yet, it is threatened with closure.

I am conscious of the time, although I have taken some interventions.

We can offer political will. The minister mentioned Scottish Enterprise, and I believe that Co-operative Development Scotland also offers a model. The minister should work with trade unions and the sector. That would make a huge difference not in saving money, but in generating money for the economy. By using the untapped potential of disabled workers—who are underemployed at the moment—we will improve our economy as well as improving lives.

I move amendment S4M-02431.2, to insert at end:

“; urges the Scottish Government to take the opportunity to express an interest in acquiring the Scottish Remploy factories affected by the closure proposal and, through Co-operative Development Scotland, to explore the community cooperative model of ownership for those businesses and to establish a task force comprising Remploy employees, trade unions and cross-party representatives to help secure a sustainable future for those factories and their employees, and further calls on the Scottish Government to commit to greater use of Article 19 contracts by the public sector.”

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

I would have welcomed the opportunity to listen to the Remploy workers, but I was not aware that the demonstration was taking place today. I welcome the fact that the minister is working with Maria Miller, the UK Minister for Disabled People. That is very helpful and reassuring.

As Fergus Ewing said, the debate over Remploy factories is not new. In 2007, the then Labour Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Peter Hain, made the decision to close 29 out of 83 Remploy factories. He said at that time:

“The reality is that without modernisation Remploy deficits would obliterate our other programmes to help disabled people into mainstream work. With no change, in five years’ time Remploy would require £171 million a year on current trends. That would be £60 million over the £111 million funding envelope, which represents nearly the entire current annual Workstep budget.”

Peter Hain confirmed that the Government had

“managed to keep open 55 sites only on the basis of very stretching procurement targets and a tough forward plan. It will be up to everyone with an interest in Remploy—Government, management, trade unions ... MPs and other political representatives—to pull together to ensure that those factories meet their ambitious targets, otherwise they, too, could be put at risk.”—[Official Report, House of Commons, 29 November 2007; Vol 468, c 448, 449.]

That was more than four years ago. Today, the same issues must be addressed by the coalition Government at Westminster.

As Dundee has four Remploy factories, the issues are important to us in Scotland. Two weeks ago, Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, made a statement in the Commons in which she confirmed the protection of spending—currently £320 million—on specialist disability employment programmes over the spending review period and her determination to help more disabled people to enter and remain in work.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

I might do so, but I have a lot to say. Let me make progress.

An additional £15 million has been made available in the spending review period for access work. The vast majority of the 6.9 million disabled people of working age in Britain could benefit from greater specialist employment support to find and retain work.

The review that was conducted by Liz Sayce, who is the head of the UK disability forum, strongly endorsed the principle that money should be used to support disabled people into employment and that money should follow individuals and not institutions.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

It is my choice to take the member’s intervention and not the member’s choice to intervene. I would like to exercise my choice.

The 2,200 disabled people who are supported by Remploy’s enterprise businesses cost about a fifth of the total budget for specialised disability employment. The cost of each employment place at Remploy is £25,000 a year, compared with an average access to work award of £2,900. I add that Remploy’s factory business operated at a loss of £68.3 million last year.

It is important to say that Chris Price, an independent living development lead at the Glasgow centre for independent living, has said that

“the decision to close Remploy was uncomfortable but the right one ... Remploy was an outmoded and archaic model of disability employment.”

Remploy’s closed-circuit television business is likely to continue, as are Remploy employment services, which have supported more than 20,000 disabled and disadvantaged people into work across England, Scotland and Wales, including people who have the same support needs as Remploy factory employees have. Remploy employment services provide personalised support and work in partnership with more than 2,500 employers.

All Remploy employees who will be affected by the proposals are being given an £8 million comprehensive personalised support package. Any disabled member of staff who is made redundant will receive an offer of individualised support for up to 18 months, to help with the transition from Government-funded sheltered employment to mainstream employment. That was not available at the time of the previous closures of Remploy factories in Great Britain. The support will include access to a personal budget to aid the transition. A community fund will provide grants to disability organisations to support Remploy employees.

The proposals fit in with the Scottish Government’s report “A Working Life for All Disabled People”, which responded to the Equal Opportunities Committee report of December 2006 entitled “Removing Barriers and Creating Opportunities”. The Government’s report says that one principle of supported employment is that

“The job should be in an integrated work place”.

That brings me to my last point, which the minister and Labour members have mentioned. The previous Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism, Jim Mather, wrote that,

“at the very least, every public body should aim to have ... one” contract under “The Scottish Sustainable Procurement Action Plan”,

“to make the maximum ... use of reserved contracts for supported factories and businesses”.

The Scottish Government must look at what it has done to award such contracts since the warning signals were given in 2006 and 2007.

I move amendment S4M-02431.1, to leave out from “is deeply” to end and insert:

“notes the UK Government’s decision to close 36 Remploy factories in the UK, including four in Scotland, which make significant losses year after year, in line with the recommendations in Getting in, staying in and getting on: Disability employment support fit for the future, a review carried out by Liz Sayce, the head of the UK Disability Forum, which advised that disability employment services should be focused on disabled people themselves rather than institutions so that they can access mainstream jobs in the same way as everyone else; notes that the factories made a loss of £68.3 million last year, which is a cost of £25,000 per employee, and that the UK Government intends to restrict funding to those factories that might have a prospect of a viable future outside government control; welcomes the £8 million package of tailored support that will be available for up to 18 months to help Remploy employees with transition, which is about £2,500 per person and includes a personal case worker with one-on-one sessions, access to a personal budget and existing back-to-work support, including Work Choice, the Work Programme and Access to Work; further notes that many disability groups are behind this move as they regard the supported factory model as outdated; agrees with the UK Government that support should be focussed on individuals through services such as Access to Work rather than segregated institutions such as Remploy so that more disabled people can work in mainstream employment, and commends the work of the Remploy employment service, which has supported over 20,000 disabled and disadvantaged people into work across England, Scotland and Wales and works in partnership with over 2,500 employers.”

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We now come to the open debate. There will be speeches of six minutes. As we are tight for time, that includes time for interventions.

Photo of Mark McDonald Mark McDonald Scottish National Party

The charitable thing to do following Mary Scanlon’s speech would be to note that at least one of the UK Government parties has bothered to turn up to the chamber to defend its stance in relation to Remploy. Yet again, the Liberal Democrats are posted missing.

I express my disappointment at the announcement. I believe that there is a need to consider what was actually said in the Sayce review.

The DWP’s response to the consultation on the Sayce review noted that the review recommended that

“by the end of the current Spending Review, the Department should have introduced a new model for Remploy”.

It also noted that the review said that:

“Remploy businesses should be given the opportunity to become successful, independent businesses”, and that, where businesses were not viable,

“employees should receive a comprehensive support package to find alternative employment”, which should be delivered through access to work.

However, the DWP’s consultation document also says:

“As resources are limited, it may not be possible to implement all of the recommended improvements to Access to Work straight away.”

That means that although we are removing the support that is provided by Remploy, we are putting people into supported access to work, which the document readily accepts is not yet fit for purpose. I find that unfortunate. A failure to give Remploy enough time to make viable businesses is one of the key problems that I have with what is happening.

I recognise the work that is being done in Dundee, but I will focus on Aberdeen, as it is one of the sites that are specifically earmarked for closure.

A social enterprise model is being developed in Aberdeen. As Kevin Stewart rightly pointed out, the site operates as a social enterprise hub. For example, Bennachie upholsterers, which is a combination of Cornerstone and Glencraft, operates on the site beside the Remploy factory. A commercial business rents space there, and there is further commercial interest in renting space there, too. Further, a social enterprise is expressing an interest in operating the canteen on the site.

As part of the attempts to move towards a social enterprise model, Remploy in Aberdeen has developed a textiles business, which it has established as a holistic business, trading within Remploy. However, it is in its infancy and has not yet had time to grow into a successful business and demonstrate its viability. The rug is essentially being pulled from underneath Remploy in Aberdeen, as it has not had a chance to demonstrate its long-term viability. Indeed, although there is a suggestion that a laundry business could be developed at Remploy as a possible future option, the uncertainty that has been created by the UK Government’s announcement throws that into doubt. That is why I raised with the minister the point about the critical nature of asset transfer.

Where I differ from the suggestion that Labour puts forward in its amendment is that, following discussions with individuals at Remploy in Aberdeen, I do not think that moving from one model of governmental support to another is necessarily what is being sought. The same applies to article 19 funding. Individuals at Remploy in Aberdeen agree that, where that funding can be unlocked through tendering processes, it would be welcome, but they do not believe that it should be used in every example or as a way of replacing grant-aided expenditure. I agree entirely with the principle that article 19 funding should be considered—but it should be considered in the wider context of the tendering processes.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

We have suggested one alternative—the co-operative business model. Is Mr McDonald saying that that is not an attractive alternative? That is not about subsidised employment that is supported by grant-in-aid; it is about an alternative, sustainable, long-term model.

Photo of Mark McDonald Mark McDonald Scottish National Party

That was not what I said at all. Remploy wants to look at all possible options for the future. I said that asset transfer is critical because the opportunity for Remploy in Aberdeen to secure the building and the equipment within it would unlock a significant opportunity, allowing the new businesses that have developed to hit the ground running, and creating an opportunity for small businesses to continue to be grown and investment to continue to be attracted.

I talk about attracting investment because, for social enterprise models to be successful, there must be buy-in from the private sector, as we have seen with Glencraft. I accept entirely the analogy that Labour has drawn with Glencraft, but I think that its direction is misguided because to say that Glencraft was saved purely as a result of the Scottish Government’s intervention is to misrepresent the process.

When Glencraft ran into significant difficulties in November 2009, a range of organisations, including the Scottish Government and the local authority, intervened. However, the critical element was the intervention of Production Services Network. PSN helped to create a new business plan for Glencraft and supported it, with support from both public sector and private sector sources. PSN pledged £100,000 to find new and more suitable premises for the business. Without that support from PSN, it would not have mattered a merry jot how much support the Scottish Government and the local authority were willing to give Glencraft.

Photo of Mark McDonald Mark McDonald Scottish National Party

No. I am afraid that I am in my last 30 seconds, otherwise I would have taken Ms Marra’s intervention.

Support from the Government and the local authority would not have been able to create the viable business that the intervention from PSN allowed.

I believe that there is a desire to work towards some form of grant-free scenario through the development of viable small businesses, whether under the social enterprise model or another model, and that the UK Government’s decision will potentially hinder that. We must consider how we support Remploy and its employees going forward.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

I had the privilege today of being on a demonstration with Patricia Ferguson and the Remploy workers who are in the public gallery, of speaking at the same conference at which John Swinney spoke and of having lunch and speaking at the same conference that Liz Sayce spoke at.

Members who know me will know that I have given a lot of commitment to supported enterprises, especially to the friends of Remploy, and that over the years I have tried to establish with other members a cross-party group on Remploy. Sadly, that was not possible, but I understand the pressures that members are under. Although we never succeeded in establishing a cross-party group on Remploy, perhaps now people will come on board for a cross-party group on supported businesses.

I welcome a lot of what Fergus Ewing said today and I know that the SNP Government has done a lot of work on the issue. The SNP Government got plaudits at the conference this morning for a range of activities that it has undertaken. However, I appeal urgently to it to reconsider its decision to have a review. There is no time for a review, which will take months. The situation requires urgent action because the axe will drop on 4 July for the people who are sitting in the gallery. No matter who is to blame—whether my Government or the Tory Government—the reality is that people will not have jobs after that date.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I give Helen Eadie a cast-iron assurance that the review will not prevent us from giving help and devoting attention as required over the coming weeks and months.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

I thank the minister, but I have another request for him: I ask him to create a task force. It should comprise the Scottish Trades Union Congress and the GMB, Unite and Community unions, and should have cross-party support from the Parliament. It should be chaired by a minister—as we know, it is vital to have ministerial magic dust. If we could get cross-party activity in the Parliament on that basis, it would make a difference.

Before I forget—given everything else that I want to say—I point out that at the conference this morning were people from European social fund projects who do not know whether their wages will be paid next week. That is a matter for Westminster, but perhaps the minister will take that up with Westminster—perhaps the minister and I can speak about that after the debate. One of the organisations in question is from Fife.

Supported businesses arose because people came back from the second world war who were in dire need of the support that has been described so well by colleagues. They had lost limbs or had mental health issues—they faced a range of the issues on which Mary Scanlon has campaigned long and hard. We must ensure that that holistic support is given to people with those problems.

Today, thankfully, there is not the same volume of people facing those problems as were affected by them during the first and second world wars—from which many did not come back at all. However, there remains a fundamental need for specialist supported enterprise. [Interruption.] I hear that members in the central part of the chamber support that view.

We must seek clarification on the closures. Not only will four factories close in Scotland, but many jobs will go in employment services, which provide advice and support. There is a lot of silence about that area, and we need to give it some consideration.

I appeal to the minister to work in partnership with the Welsh Assembly. The First Minister worked with Carwyn Jones on the European Union Council of Ministers veto issue, and we must work together on the Remploy issue too. On 7 March, the Welsh Assembly heard an excellent ministerial statement, which was followed by a lot of questions from members.

On whether we have co-operatives or mutuals, the fundamental point is that we should have a community of interests for disabled people, whether or not that is called social enterprise. I pay tribute to the SNP Government for its work on social enterprise, which was applauded at the conference this morning.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

I am running out of time now, but perhaps the member and I can speak after the debate.

We must allow for a variety of community enterprise models. I have been involved in community businesses in a hands-on, real way—I have set up a community nursery and a workers co-operative factory, and I have been involved in community cleaning—so I understand the arguments about mutuals and the need to ensure that the business is financially viable. I am not arguing with that.

On the Glencraft versus Blindcraft issue—and all the rest—I highlight the debate that took place on 12 December at Westminster and encourage the minister to look at the contribution by Paul Goggins from Wythenshawe. He showed how any one of us in the Parliament could drive forward rescue packages, and his tackling of the issue has been first class.

With regard to the core costs that have caused Remploy’s downfall, the company has an office in the midlands that costs £100,000 a year to rent, and there is £3.5 million for bonuses. If those things are stripped out and replaced by mutuals run for the benefit of the disabled community, we will start to address the issues.

I was gobsmacked when I read Liz Sayce’s report, in which she said that every placement at a college—there are only nine such colleges in England and Wales, and none in Scotland—costs £78,000.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I would be grateful if the member could draw to a close.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

I ask members to support the Labour amendment, because we all have a lot in common on the issue and we should not divide on it.

I am keen and eager to help in every way that I can people in Remploy and supported enterprises. I appeal to the minister to ensure that those people are able to use the talents and skills that we all want them to bring to the workplace.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The member must close, please.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

Thank you, Presiding Officer, for allowing us to participate in the debate.

Photo of Gordon MacDonald Gordon MacDonald Scottish National Party

I wish that I had known about the demonstration, as I would have supported it.

There are more than 20 supported businesses in Scotland that employ around 1,600 people in locations throughout the country. Businesses in the Remploy group account for nearly half the supported businesses in Scotland; they employ 285 staff, of which 87 per cent are disabled. They are a highly skilled and adaptable workforce who provide a wide range of goods and services, from high-performance textiles to medical equipment and electronics. Customers include the Ministry of Defence, local authorities and private sector companies.

As the minister stated, the recent announcement means that four of the nine Scottish factories will close and nearly 40 per cent of the workforce will be made redundant. The sites that are earmarked for closure are in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Motherwell and Springburn, adding 111 skilled workers to the unemployment scrap heap.

The Sayce report, which the UK Government commissioned to review disability employment support, states:

“this is precisely the time to develop a strategy to empower disabled people to seize new opportunities when they come on stream and to enable employers to retain and take on disadvantaged people.”

However, when will suitable jobs come on stream? What is the reality for disabled people?

Phil Brannan, convener of the shop stewards at Remploy, said that GMB research had shown that

“In 2008, 29 factories in the UK closed, and 3,000 severely disabled people lost their jobs. Around 18 months later we surveyed those workers and”— as Ken Macintosh said—

“84% had not secured employment”.

According to Momentum Scotland’s website, only 39 per cent of Scotland’s disabled adults are in employment, compared with 81 per cent of able-bodied people. The UK Government has accepted the Sayce report’s recommendations, but where does it think that the replacement jobs for the Remploy workers will come from in the current economic climate, especially as more qualified individuals are applying for posts that they would not have considered before the downturn?

In an email to me, Inclusion Scotland stated:

Disabled people feel they are usually discriminated against in accessing paid work because of their impairments, and during a time of recession, this is much more prevalent as employers consider the employment of disabled people much more risky, even if it is a fallacy”.

The decision to close four Remploy units in Scotland will change employees from being individuals who feel that they are making a contribution to the community, paying tax and national insurance and not depending on benefits to being people who are left to survive on jobseekers allowance and other handouts.

However, it is not only a Scottish issue. Throughout the UK, the Tory-Liberal Government has accepted that 36 of the 54 Remploy factories will lose their subsidy from 31 March, resulting in 1,752 people being made unemployed.

Throughout the UK, 1.3 million disabled people are available for work and want to work. As Mary Scanlon said, Remploy employment services secured employment for only 20,000 in 2010-11.

A leading adult learning charity in England and Wales stated:

“there is a role for disability specific workplaces where these support the transition to unsupported employment for disabled people who face the greatest labour market disadvantage who, without these workplaces, would be unlikely to be given this transition opportunity elsewhere. Government funding should be available for these disability specific workplaces if necessary to ensure they are viable.”

Photo of Gordon MacDonald Gordon MacDonald Scottish National Party

I would prefer to get on a wee bit.

According to press reports, the UK Minister for Disabled People, Maria Miller MP, has stated:

“it costs the taxpayer £25,000 to keep one Remploy factory worker in their job each year, and yet the factory bosses are paying many of their employees to do nothing, because of a lack of orders.”

However, when I visited my local Remploy along with Colin Keir and Chic Brodie we were informed that Remploy had no marketing budget, that individual factories were not allowed to advertise, that they had nearly two dozen sales positions vacant and that there were no Scotland-based sales people. No wonder there is a lack of orders.

A recent KPMG report identified the operating loss for each Remploy site. All four Scottish factories identified for closure are making a loss. However, Springburn reported an operating loss of just over £4,000 per employee before a share of central costs was added on. We should compare that with the value of the benefits that the employees will receive when they are made redundant.

Some organisations have indicated that sheltered factories are an outdated concept left over from the aftermath of the second world war and that disabled people should be in mainstream employment. However, many Remploy employees have worked 20-plus years for the organisation. Some of them previously tried open employment but found it too stressful, leading to a deterioration in their general health. Others felt that the culture at Remploy was one that understood disability and fluctuating health conditions. That may not be the case at other employers. Inclusion Scotland stated:

“We strongly feel that closing this many factories, all at once, is an unmitigated disaster for these workers and is ill-timed and wrong”.

As we were informed at our visit, the 90-day consultation period for redundancies has begun and people will begin to lose their jobs on 4 July, with complete closure expected by 17 August. Time is running out for the workers. There is likely to be little alternative employment for those who are being made redundant. The only option is that we examine all avenues to keep the factories open.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

I am pleased to speak in this important debate. I, too, put on record my extreme disappointment with the UK minister’s announcement earlier this month. My heart goes out to the Remploy employees in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Motherwell. I say for the record, and for the benefit of people in the public gallery, that—like all my SNP colleagues—I would have been happy to come to support this morning’s demonstration if I had been aware of it.

As the SNP MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, I obviously have very serious concerns about the future of the Remploy factories in Cowdenbeath, Leven and Stirling. Although those sites have been spared the axe wielded by the UK Tory-Liberal Government on 7 March, of which we have heard much during the debate, the deeply worrying lack of clarity about their future and that of the factories in Clydebank and Dundee is regrettable.

That lack of clarity results from the fact that the sites have been labelled “potentially viable” by the UK DWP, which is not particularly helpful, to say the least; it is certainly not helpful for the 95 staff currently employed at those sites, who deserve so much better.

Perhaps we should not be too surprised to see such cavalier treatment being afforded by the UK Tory-Liberal Government to disabled people when we bear in mind the savage cuts to disability benefits of 20 per cent across the board—cuts that were a key driver of the Tory-Liberal Welfare Reform Act 2012, which was passed in London the other week. The UK Government made no bones about the fact that the cuts were the objective of its legislation.

Indeed, the latest attack on supported employment must be seen against the backdrop of the UK welfare legislation. It is hard to imagine a more callous act at this time. As the First Minister said during First Minister’s question time on 8 March:

“There are plenty of abuses of power by Westminster over Scotland ... for example, I regard the Remploy employees as suffering from such an abuse of power, I regard the cuts to the disability living allowance in Scotland as a huge abuse of power”.—[Official Report, 8 March 2012; c 7063.]

The question is, where do we go from here? It is key that we understand the importance of the role of supported businesses and supported employment for some disabled people and the contribution that those make to securing a person-centred approach to promoting opportunity for disabled people in the workplace.

As we have heard, that is the case in relation to both access to work and, importantly, access to training, as mentioned by Mr Livingstone—I mean Mr Macintosh. I am at it again—there must be something about Mr Macintosh that leads to that slight confusion of identity.

I am not saying that mainstreaming of employment should not also be pursued. It must always be a question of what suits the individual. There can never be a one-size-fits-all approach, because we are dealing with individual human beings who have varying needs. As the minister said, the Scottish Government recognises that.

I was pleased to hear that a commission will shortly be established to undertake a review of supported businesses. I note the minister’s assurances to Helen Eadie that the review will not kick the issue into the long grass and that it will run in parallel with our efforts to do what we can to help those who are in need of our assistance.

I believe that that approach is the correct way forward. In contrast, the UK Tory-Liberal Government in London is taking a draconian approach and seems intent on trying to undermine the dignity of disabled people, many of whom are beginning to feel as if they are under siege by that Government. Nothing that the Tory front-bench spokeswoman said would change the view of many disabled people in that regard or provide any reassurance whatsoever.

Notwithstanding the UK Government’s position, in Scotland we must strive to demonstrate that there is a future for the remaining Remploy sites and, in so doing, we must focus first and foremost on the workers and the contribution that they make. Any extraneous operational costs should be identified and must be dealt with. As Helen Eadie alluded to, workers have concerns about those costs. They have contacted me about their concerns, too, and I am sure that, in the light of the hard work that she has carried out over the years to further the interests of Remploy workers, she is in receipt of the same information about bonuses, overtime and so on.

The focus has to be on the workers and their important contribution, and on how we can increase sustainability. I hope that all parties will support the calls on the DWP to release to the Scottish Government all relevant information that could assist in that process. It is worth stressing that, as has been mentioned, the Glencraft example shows what can be done when the private sector, local government and central Government are involved and when we have the drive, the determination and the imagination to secure alternative investment streams and to make a go of things.

We have a task ahead of us, but I am delighted to hear that the Scottish Government will strain every sinew to ensure that Remploy workers in Scotland have a future. I hope that we will attract cross-party support for that, because those workers deserve nothing less.

Photo of John Pentland John Pentland Labour

As we have heard, the Remploy factory in Motherwell is among those that it is proposed will close. It provides storage and packing services, and employs 22 people. The factory is, in fact, in Wishaw, but getting its location wrong should be the least of our worries. The major worry will be finding another job in an area that has already been hit hard by unemployment. It should be noted with great disappointment that only 8 per cent of the staff who have previously been made redundant from Remploy have since found employment.

In Motherwell and Wishaw, there are 22 jobseekers for every vacancy, which is more than three times the national average. Unemployment is more than 50 per cent higher than the Scottish average. The 22 new jobseekers will be competing in one of the toughest job markets in the country, and the experts tell us that it will get tougher.

Naturally, employees are not optimistic. Linda Hills, who has worked at Remploy for 27 years, said:

“We are being told we’re not wanted. We’ve always wanted to work, not claim benefits. I can’t get on with my normal life because I keep on worrying about what the future will hold.”

The First Minister has described the decision as

“at best, ill-timed and insensitive.”—[Official Report, 8 March 2012; c 7069.]

I think that he was being too kind to the coalition and the relevant UK minister, who announced the decision in answer to a parliamentary question, leaving my colleague Frank Roy MP to pass on the news to the workers in our constituency. I gather that the Scottish Government was told before the announcement, but I presume that, at that stage, it was too late for its discussions with the DWP to make a difference.

The trade unions have not given up the fight, and I hope that the Scottish Government will do what it can to protect the provision of supported employment. Community, Unite and the GMB all have workers in Remploy factories. They are all working together, lobbying hard for the retention of Remploy workplaces. Community believes that there is a future for supported employment factories but that it requires the right political will. It wants the Government to target resources on the search for new owners and the creation of new business models.

The GMB points to the need for disabled people to be allowed to manage and fully contribute to the organisation and cites the fact that that has not happened as the main reason why Remploy has continued to fail over the past 10 years. Another reason that has been cited for Remploy’s difficulties is the lack of orders. That is not inevitable. More could be done—for example, use could be made of article 19 of the EU public sector procurement directive, which permits contracts to be reserved for social enterprises that employ a majority of workers with disabilities.

There are a few, including lain Duncan Smith, who have the cheek to claim that closure is a progressive solution and who portray Remploy as some sort of workhouse from a past century. In truth, that is nothing but a smokescreen for the callous, cut-and-be-damned austerity agenda.

I am sure that some factories could benefit from investment, but many have sophisticated machinery that produces quality products.

Photo of Clare Adamson Clare Adamson Scottish National Party

Does the member not agree that the same arguments were made by Anne McGuire, the then Minister for Disabled People, and Peter Hain when they set us on this path of a declining number of Remploy factories?

Photo of John Pentland John Pentland Labour

I think that Ken Macintosh has already answered that point.

Nobody would recognise the Remploy factories in their caricature as a Victorian institution. Of course, more recent initiatives aim to support people into mainstream employment and, for those who can take advantage of such schemes, they are welcome developments whose costs make them attractive to Government. However, that does not make Remploy an outmoded model. Unfortunately, many employers are still reluctant to employ people with disabilities and the supported workplace still has a valuable role to play for many workers. Indeed, there is a strong argument for developing more social enterprises staffed and run by disabled workers. To survive, that might be the way that Remploy workplaces must go.

It might not be possible to save all workplaces, but while we fight to keep the existing workplaces open we must consider alternative means of providing and developing supported employment. I know that, in my area, North Lanarkshire Council already provides supported employment for 140 people, and will offer support through the North Lanarkshire’s Working scheme to those whose jobs are now at risk.

The council has already said that it will consider the expansion of its operations. One of those, Beltane Products, is a sheltered workshop, currently providing work for 23 people. Formed nearly 50 years ago, it refurbishes and manufactures a range of furniture and furnishings. The aim would be to expand along the lines of the existing and very successful partnership between Glasgow’s City Building, the RNIB and Blindcraft, which helps to protect 260 jobs. I hope that the Scottish Government can extend support for such action by local authorities and social enterprises through procurement and other initiatives.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You must close now, please.

Photo of John Pentland John Pentland Labour

The Scottish Government could also ask questions of the UK Government, such as what will happen to Remploy’s assets—will they be sold and, if so, where will the profits go? Perhaps the Scottish Government could lobby for the equipment, facilities and land—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

In fairness to others, you must close, please.

Photo of John Pentland John Pentland Labour

Instead of the cuts, could we be making better use of the money and resources for the benefit of disabled people? That could be a progressive—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you very much. You must stop now, please.

Photo of Chic Brodie Chic Brodie Scottish National Party

Remploy opened its first factory in south Wales in 1945, producing violins and furniture. Designed to employ disabled ex-miners then ex-servicemen, it became a national and social byword for good, sound quality of products and services within its remit.

In the course of my business career, I have had several dealings with Remploy factories in Scotland and the decision last week to close four of Scotland’s Remploy factories is a totem to the monumental arrogance of successive London Governments that pretend that they can successfully run social business and commercial entities. They could not, they cannot and they never will be able to. God save us from task forces.

Not only did they continue to pretend, they suggested the segregation of work for disabled people as a salve to their consciences when what was needed a long time ago was the integration of very capable disabled people into shared, profitable manufacturing and enterprise environments.

Photo of Jenny Marra Jenny Marra Labour

Is Chic Brodie, like David Cameron, recommending that workers in supported workplaces should be chasing mainstream jobs at a time when there are 6,000 people unemployed in Dundee, for example, and 400 job vacancies? Is he honestly saying that the workers who spoke to Ken Macintosh this morning have a hope of getting a job in the mainstream job market? Is he advocating that Tory policy?

Photo of Chic Brodie Chic Brodie Scottish National Party

That was short and to the point—and so was the intervention. I shall come to Jenny Marra’s point.

London Governments created a focus on disparate disabled entities but did not involve them in shared enterprises. The announcement last week was a fig leaf.

I accept that Remploy—or some of its constituent parts—was not profitable. As Gordon MacDonald said, if you starve any company of sales and marketing, that is what happens. However, that does not mean that Remploy or some of its subsidiary parts could not have been profitable. Indeed, they still could be.

Photo of Chic Brodie Chic Brodie Scottish National Party

I am sorry, but I do not have enough time.

The ultimate farce was to put Liz Sayce, the chief executive of the Royal Association for Disability RightsRADAR—in charge of the Remploy review. The review came up with the conclusion that UK Government funding for Remploy should be ended so that funding could be used to support more disabled people into mainstream employment—that perhaps answers Jenny Marra’s point. Of course, Ms Sayce would say that, wouldn’t she? She was in charge of the alternative stream. As it said in an e-mail that I received yesterday, it was like putting a vegetarian in charge of a review of the meat industry.

Ms Sayce, who is not a business expert but a mental health expert, was supported by the UK Minister for Disabled People, who said that a service would be provided to ascertain what was needed to get people back into work—this from a minister in a UK Government that has presided over rising unemployment because of its fiscal and monetary policies. Against such a backdrop, Ms Sayce and Ms Miller should explain why, four years after the most recent round of Remploy closures, 85 per cent of the disabled workers who were made redundant then are still seeking work. What is proposed is nasty, cynical and ruthless.

Photo of Chic Brodie Chic Brodie Scottish National Party

No, I will not.

I have had sight of the detailed and extensive consultants’ report on Remploy, I have distilled some of the items in the Sayce review and I have spoken to people who know not a little about the Remploy operation in Scotland, and I think that there is scope for us to do something much more positive. I welcome the action that the Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism announced today.

Members must forgive me for being a bit cynical but, when I read the reports, I noticed that of the nine factories, the five that are to be retained—or at least that are under consideration for retention—are all textile factories. We should wait for the “For Sale” signs to go up.

This week, I met heads of associated manufacturing bodies, who believe, as I do, that there is a place for at least some Remploy factories to continue. It is right to challenge the UK Government now and to say that Remploy in Scotland and its employees need more time. Although I cannot support Labour’s amendment urging the Scottish Government to express an interest in acquiring the factories, because it cannot legally do that, I sympathise. Consideration should be given to the establishment of co-operatives or at least social enterprises, with which we can work to create purposeful business plans and ascertain the viability of individual factories—I am convener of the cross-party group on social enterprise, so I would say that, wouldn’t I?

We must allow time for work with various funding streams, such as the social investment fund, the co-operative development fund and the Co-operative Bank, to see whether we can create employee-owned businesses or participative businesses that are not segregated disability employee communities but fully integrated social and profitable work communities. I welcome the minister’s initiatives.

A distressing feature of the whole exercise, which is clear from members’ conversations with Remploy, is that Remploy has had no sales, marketing or business nous to support it, while bearing the full burden of centralised management costs. It is little wonder that Remploy is in the situation that it is in. The efforts that are set out in the motion are commendable and our successful efforts to help our Remploy employees will at least demonstrate who we are and what we are in this Parliament.

Photo of Jenny Marra Jenny Marra Labour

I am glad that the Scottish Government brought this debate to the Parliament, because the plight of Remploy factories in Scotland is immensely important. Labour members are keen that the Scottish Government should take decisive and swift action to provide all the support that it can to Remploy workers.

We need action now in Scotland, because Remploy is more than just a workplace. It is much more than the average 9-to-5 workplace; it is a community of work and dignity for hundreds of disabled people in Scotland. As I said in my intervention on Chic Brodie, in a stagnant job market, in which so many people are chasing so few positions—there are 6,000 unemployed people in Dundee and only 400 job vacancies—we have a moral obligation to ask ourselves whether we have done all that we can before we allow Remploy workers to join the dole queue, which is what they will do.

In our amendment, we note that the Scottish Government can do more for the workers of Remploy. I welcome the tone of the minister’s speech, which was in stark contrast to what we heard from his back benchers.

I ask the Government to consider some of the article 19 ideas that we have been promoting over the past couple of weeks to protect the Remploy workers in Dundee and throughout Scotland.

Photo of Jenny Marra Jenny Marra Labour

Not just now, thanks.

Last week, I started a campaign, backed by Community, the GMB and the Fire Brigades Union, for the Scottish Government to take one simple step to secure the future of Remploy factories in Scotland. The campaign asks the Scottish Government to commit to procuring new police and fire uniforms for the single Scottish police and fire services in Scotland. Use of an article 19 order could lead to Scottish Government contracts to the tune of £1.25 million being given to Remploy. How good would it be if the new police and firefighters in our communities knew that their work clothes had been made in their own communities by the workers who needed the work the most?

Two years ago, Remploy workers at the Dunsinane industrial estate in Dundee made firefighters’ uniforms for the London Fire Brigade.

Photo of Chic Brodie Chic Brodie Scottish National Party

I hear what the member says about specific items of manufacture, but will she accept that part of the problem with Remploy is that, because it has had one stream, it has become very vulnerable. What it needs is diversification.

Photo of Jenny Marra Jenny Marra Labour

I have just given a very specific example. I have seen the Dundee workers make radiation uniforms for the Japanese Government. Two years ago, they made uniforms for the London Fire Brigade. Why can they not make Scottish firefighters’ uniforms here in Scotland? It would be a strong signal if our Scottish Government awarded that contract to Remploy.

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

We are on the same page here. I, too, recognise the hard work and dedication of the Dundee factory. The workers in Dundee are highly skilled and make fantastic products. However, one of the problems that they face is that, even when they have the skills to meet a public sector contract, Remploy at a senior level decides not to tender for it. They have the skills to compete against the best in the world because they are the best manufacturers in the world, but Remploy will not tender for the contracts.

Photo of Jenny Marra Jenny Marra Labour

I know that, like me, the member cares a lot about the Dundee factory. I have spoken to Remploy and it would be happy to tender for the contract for the new police and fire uniforms if the Scottish Government signalled its willingness to use article 19 to put the contract in place. I hope that he will back the campaign later today.

We must recognise the power of article 19. The European Union—one of the biggest free-trade zones in the world—recognised the moral and financial case for ensuring that contracts are given directly to protect our workplaces when it legislated to allow public procurement to bypass the commercial tender process under article 19. That is a power that Fergus Ewing has at his disposal and I urge him to use it.

In answer to Mark McDonald’s point, I say that the campaign for Remploy to make police and fire uniforms has received widespread support. Last week, I received a call from a global oil and gas company in Aberdeen that had heard about the campaign. It told me that, if the Scottish Government secured the long-term future of Remploy factories in Scotland by committing to using article 19, it would in turn, following that show of confidence, commit to procuring all of its personal protective equipment from Remploy. That company has today given the Scottish Government an opportunity to secure the future of Remploy and save hundreds of jobs, provided the Government is willing to take the reins of leadership and commit to using article 19.

I have written to Government ministers on the issue and I have yet to receive a reply but, in light of the significant offer that I have raised today, I would appreciate it if the minister, in closing, could say whether the Government will consider that action.

I would move to close—

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick None

You really do need to close.

Photo of Jenny Marra Jenny Marra Labour

I hope that the minister will consider using article 19, as I have laid out today, to help the workers of Remploy in Scotland.

Photo of Clare Adamson Clare Adamson Scottish National Party

Presiding Officer, thank you for affording me the opportunity to speak in the debate.

It was Gandhi who said:

“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”

I would not like to be the entity calibrating the measure of the UK in the past few months. In this chamber alone, we have debated welfare reforms that will have devastating effects for disabled and vulnerable people, and talked about payday loans and their effect on the poorest in our community. There was an £83 cut in pensioners’ benefits in the budget. Today, we are debating the devastating news that Remploy factories, which were designed to help and support our society’s most vulnerable members, are due to close.

Edward Heath once said:

“We are the trade union for pensioners and children, the trade union for the disabled and the sick ... the trade union for the nation as a whole.”

Although, politically, I take exception to being included in Edward Heath’s “We”, I agree that elected politicians should be representatives and protectors of and campaigners for the most vulnerable. That should be our greatest concern.

The Remploy factory in Wishaw was opened in 2003 by the First Minister at the time, who is now Lord McConnell. At the time, he said:

“People with disabilities deserve the same opportunities in life as others in society and Remploy factories allow them to put their talents to good use, while increasing their sense of self-worth and allowing them to become more confident and develop new skills.”

He welcomed Remploy to Wishaw and said that he looked

“forward to seeing their continued expansion.”

I shared that hope and ambition, but I am afraid that, when it came to delivering, the Labour Party was sorely lacking. Within five short years, the UK Labour Government and the Minister for Disabled People, Anne McGuire, would be standing in full support behind the Remploy restructuring plans, which have led us to where we are today. I say to my Labour colleagues that, if the Labour Party in government had stood in defence of workers at that time and stopped the proposals dead, we would not be where we are today and the Remploy factory in Wishaw would not be closing after only nine years’ operation.

Photo of Drew Smith Drew Smith Labour

Six years ago, I was part of a GMB delegation that met Peter Hain at the Labour Party conference in Brighton. We met a Welsh secretary of state who was taking action that I disagreed with, and we were led by a Londoner, Paul Kenny, who was the leader of my union. The member’s attempts to portray the issue as somehow involving a lack of concern down south and a lot of concern in Scotland are ludicrous, as are her attempts to turn the issue into a party-political issue. The debate has been consensual. The Scottish Government could use article 19 and do various things itself.

Photo of Clare Adamson Clare Adamson Scottish National Party

Two motions were lodged in the Scottish Parliament in 2007 on the proposed closure of Remploy factories. The Liberal Democrats lodged a motion on the campaign against Remploy closures, and Brian Adam lodged a motion against the closure of Remploy factories. No Labour motion was lodged, and only one Labour member was good enough to sign one of those motions.

Photo of Clare Adamson Clare Adamson Scottish National Party

No, I will not take another intervention. I am sorry.

The Labour MP Mr Frank Roy campaigned to secure a reprieve for the Netherton factory. [Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer:

Mr Smith, that is enough.

Photo of Clare Adamson Clare Adamson Scottish National Party

At the time, Frank Roy was quoted as saying:

“I am delighted Remploy have accepted my proposal to keep the Wishaw factory open by partially turning the Netherton site into a training centre to help people throughout Lanarkshire get back to work.”

The GMB said:

“We have now got to prove ourselves financially. They want us to cut costs and that makes us feel annoyed as in five or six years we may need to go through the same process. If we don’t prove ourselves, we will close. This is just a reprieve ... It will stay open for possibly five or six years.”

It did not get six years—it got five years.

The problem with what happened in 2007 is that it set us on an inevitable path. At the start of 2007, Remploy at Netherton had more than 70 supported disabled workers. By the time the reprieve was won—Frank Roy said that he orchestrated it—the factory employed 53 workers. Today, there are only 22 supported disabled workers in Remploy in Netherton.

Mr Roy is quoted as saying:

“This is the wrong plan at the wrong time. Unemployment is going through the roof, and is higher in Scotland than the rest of the UK. Back to work schemes aren’t working, and the government think this is a good time to sack disabled workers. It is utterly shocking.”

He continued:

“This is a cut too far from a government that doesn’t care.”

Although I agree with some of the points that Mr Roy has made, the betrayal of Remploy factory workers happened in 2007, when Labour failed to stop the restructuring plan. At that time, it was the UK Labour Government that did not care. The plan set in motion the inevitable decline of the Remploy factories, and the closures that we are discussing now are because of the decisions that were made in 2007.

Mary Scanlon made much of the cost difference between supported working places and disabled workers in mainstream employment, conflating two different types of employment that bear no relation to each other. It just goes to show that both the Labour Party and the Tories know the cost of everything but the value of nothing.

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

I, too, welcome the Remploy staff to the chamber. It is unfortunate that I was unable to attend their event. I did not know that the demonstration was happening today, or I would have supported it.

Remploy workers are not just angry about losing their jobs, but angry that some UK politicians are using the veneer of support for disability organisations to justify the closure plans. I hope to return to that later in my speech.

In a tight funding environment, numerous organisations will be grateful for the cash that currently goes to Remploy, but that does not mean that support for disabled people will improve. It means that a finite resource will be used in different areas. Perhaps the question should be whether we are spending enough to protect disability rights and employability strategies more generally, rather than how we can spend the same inadequate pot of money in different ways.

There is always a case for change and improvements to disability support arrangements, but Iain Duncan Smith’s statement that the Government should not be expected to subsidise “Victorian-era segregated employment” misses the point entirely. Ken Macintosh referred to that. Not only does it miss the point, but it is an almost unbelievable insult to the skilled workers of these 21st century manufacturing operations. Like most people in the chamber, I believe that the rights and opportunities of the most vulnerable people in our society should be protected, and that is why we are being defensive of Remploy, which provides those opportunities.

If we view the Remploy proposals in the context of the UK Government’s wider approach to the disabled in our society, particularly in relation to welfare reform, it is pretty clear to me who is expected to pay the price in a Tory Britain for the failures of successive UK Governments on the economy—it is the most vulnerable in society.

I would love to see all disabled people in mainstream employment of their choosing. Training, education and work opportunities should be open to all, regardless of disability. The Conservatives talk about focusing on the individual, but what about the individual who is best suited to supported employment in places such as Remploy? What about them? No Remploy worker has a preference for the dole, but that is exactly where many of them might end up if the plans go ahead.

That is why I lodged a motion recently describing the Remploy closures as ill timed and ill considered. Let us put aside the debate on supported employment for one moment.

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

Let me make some progress, Ms Scanlon.

Let us imagine for a moment that the plans were for the greater good. I do not believe that they are, but if that was the case, they would need to be actioned at a time that maximised the possibility for Remploy workers to access the mainstream jobs market. Every week, I speak to constituents in Glasgow who are frantically trying to find work. They are finding it increasingly difficult, given the UK austerity cuts and the state of the economy. Unemployment is high, and Tory welfare reforms mean that it might get far higher.

Let us consider Springburn, which is where my local Remploy factory is based. There are already five jobseekers allowance claimants for every job centre vacancy that is advertised. Even the lowest-paid jobs are attracting multiple applicants. However, Citizens Advice Scotland estimates that the number of JSA claimants there is likely to surge by a further 31 per cent because of wider reforms and cuts to disability benefits. It is that jobs market and that environment that Remploy workers in Springburn and beyond will be forced to enter. John Pentland, who has left the chamber, made a similar point about his area.

I am sure that some Remploy workers will carry themselves into mainstream workplaces by demonstrating their numerous skills and aptitude for hard work. Such success would demonstrate the success of Remploy itself and be a strong argument for retaining its factories. If the UK Government is genuinely determined to mainstream people into employment, it should retain Remploy as a gateway institution and social provider to process people into the main workforce.

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

Ms Scanlon did not take any interventions. She should sit down.

Let us look at what we can do. There has been a lot of heat in the last few speeches about what previous UK Governments and the current UK Government have done. It was reasonable for Ms Adamson to set out the historical context; the UK Labour Party set the train in motion. However, on one level, that is now irrelevant. We are where we are and the majority of members want to find a way forward for Remploy factories.

I am mindful of the £4,000 figure that Gordon MacDonald mentioned when he spoke about the profit and loss margins at Remploy Springburn. When we see such close margins, we must say to ourselves that there must be a way forward such as a plan or proposal that can sustain Remploy Springburn and others into the future. I want to be actively involved in helping to achieve that on a cross-party basis.

Whether we are looking for social enterprise models, co-operative models, or better use of article 19, something has to be done. I say very gently to some members that just saying that the Scottish Government can step in every time that a UK Conservative Government messes up is not the answer to our problems. The answer to Scotland’s problems is to not have any UK Government messing up in Scotland, so that we can provide a better future for all our workforce.

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

I will work with anyone in any party, including Ms Eadie, to find a better future for all Remploy workers and all disabled workers in Scotland.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

When I read in the Business Bulletin that we would be debating this issue today, I wondered whether the SNP Government had run out of ideas for issues to debate that lie within its control, given that this is the second debate in two days on a matter that is reserved to the Westminster Government. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the tone of the debate, at least during the early part. In particular, I welcomed the tone of the ministerial contribution. Mr Ewing was, as ever, extremely reasonable in setting out his arguments, and that was reflected by the other opening speakers.

Even Helen Eadie, who never misses an opportunity when she gets one to bash the wicked Tories, was extremely reasonable. I pay tribute to the sincere and deep interest that Helen Eadie has taken in the plight of the Remploy factories over many years. That is well respected across the chamber.

It is a pity that that consensual and positive tone was not reflected in some of the later speeches, which I will come to shortly. I noticed that the Scottish Government, despite all its complaints about what is being done by the Westminster Government, made no proposal to step in and make up the shortfall in funding.

As the minister said, and Mary Scanlon reflected, the background to the debate is the Sayce review. Liz Sayce is a hugely well-respected campaigner for the rights of disabled people. I did not think that any member would stoop so low as to question her good faith, but of course I was disappointed because, right on cue, along came Mr Brodie. It is deeply disappointing that people attack Liz Sayce’s recommendations, because they have been strongly supported by the responses to the UK Government’s consultation and by leading disability organisations across the country.

In my intervention on Mr Ewing, I referred to the article in The Guardian of a few weeks ago that quoted the organisations that are in support. I note that Third Force News, which came out this week, referred to a number of organisations such as the Royal National Institute of Blind People Scotland being supportive of the reforms. It also quoted, as did Mary Scanlon, Chris Price from the Glasgow Centre for Independent Living, saying that

“the decision to close Remploy was uncomfortable but the right one.”

He said:

“It is uncomfortable but it is the right thing to do. If it is the right message, we should not be shy about saying it, just because it upsets some people.”

I appreciate that some members will disagree with those comments, but they are the comments of leading disability organisations and we should be prepared to listen to their views, even if we disagree with the majority view that has been expressed.

Photo of Jim Eadie Jim Eadie Scottish National Party

Mr Fraser mentions the RNIB but, in its response to the consultation on the review, it said:

“The Sayce led review raises alternative options for funding but has failed to demonstrate the feasibility of these.”

Does the member not think that we should listen to the RNIB when it says that?

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Mr Eadie will know from having studied the issue that the bulk of the responses are clearly in support of the Sayce review. The Government would rightly have been criticised by all those disability organisations if it had said no to the Sayce proposals.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

No, I need to make progress, but I will come on to Mr McDonald in a moment.

I entirely understand the concerns of the workforce at Remploy, who face an uncertain future. Everybody recognises that. Mary Scanlon mentioned the £8 million package of support that is being made available for employees. Mark McDonald made a fair point about the challenges of the transition from supported employment. That is precisely why there is an offer of individualised support from the DWP for up to 18 months for those who are involved.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

If Mr McDonald will forgive me, I will not, because I am short on time and I have two more points to make.

As I said, the tone had been constructive throughout much of the debate, but I am sorry to say that some SNP members lowered the tone. Annabelle Ewing, Chic Brodie, Clare Adamson and Bob Doris missed no opportunity to turn the debate into a party-political or constitutional battlefield. They tried to blame Westminster Governments of whatever hue for what is happening and completely disregarded the views of the disability rights organisations to which I referred. I say gently to those members that, if they are so concerned about the issue, why does not their Scottish Government do what it did in the case of Glencraft in Aberdeen and step in to provide money? When Blindcraft in Edinburgh closed, where were the SNP councillors calling for more money from the City of Edinburgh Council’s budget? They were nowhere to be seen.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

There have been far too many SNP comments in the debate already, so Mrs Ewing can sit down. I have to say that there was a contrast between Mrs Ewing’s tone and that of her brother on the front bench. Perhaps that explains why he is a minister and she is not.

Most of the speeches from Labour members were extremely positive. I gently remind John Pentland that it was Peter Hain who closed 28 factories because they were not viable. I do not remember motions from the Labour Party expressing deep disappointment about that being debated in the Parliament at the time.

We should focus on the positives and the way forward. We should consider initiatives to develop alternative business models. I welcome the minister’s comment that he will work with the DWP and that the DWP will work with the Remploy board to find ways forward and alternatives, such as social enterprises. On that, I agree with Helen Eadie. Change is difficult. Our focus should be on supporting the employees, not on scoring party-political or constitutional points.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

We often begin speeches in the Parliament by saying that it is a pleasure to take part in a debate. I am afraid that this is one of those rare occasions when it really is not a pleasure to take part in a debate. Having said that, I am proud to have the opportunity to stand up for my constituents and their colleagues across the country who are threatened with redundancy. It is an honour to represent people who, in spite of the adversity that they have encountered in their lives, have the satisfaction of knowing that they are doing a meaningful job and contributing to their society and communities. Therefore, I sincerely thank the Scottish Government for bringing the debate to the chamber.

Why would anyone want to take jobs away from disabled people? When 20 people are chasing every job vacancy in my constituency, why does the coalition Government think it acceptable to put another 46 people on the dole? What makes the coalition Government think that those 46 people will have a better chance of getting alternative employment than their peers in a country in which some 75 per cent of able-bodied people have jobs but in which, as Gordon MacDonald said, only 45 per cent of disabled people are in work?

We know that disabled people want to have a choice about where they work and that, for many, that will be in mainstream or open employment. However, for a substantial number of those who work at Remploy that choice simply does not exist. Some have tried to fit into other workplaces and have encountered problems; others simply could not get work that would suit them or their disability. If the Minister for Disabled People, Maria Miller, thinks that it will be easy for those workers to find alternative employment, why does she not allow them to remain with Remploy until they do?

Ten of those who work at Remploy in Springburn are deaf, but they were not even given the courtesy of a signer when the news was broken to the workforce that their factory was to close—so much for the respect agenda. There was, however, a human resources consultant in attendance, whom we understand is being paid £300 an hour to assist the management through the closure programme.

We know that the Remploy model is a particular one with a particular history, but I do not recognise the picture that the Conservative amendment paints in talking about a segregated workforce. Nor do I see any sense in the suggestion by the minister at Westminster that by putting 1,500 people on the dole she will be helping others into work. That is perverse logic in my view.

The irony is that the Remploy factory in my constituency is in the same industrial estate as Royal Strathclyde Blindcraft Industries, which colleagues have mentioned. That is a supported workplace that is run like a social enterprise and it has a strong future ahead of it. Its employees are supported and encouraged to learn.

Photo of Mark McDonald Mark McDonald Scottish National Party

Does the member share the concerns that have been expressed to me that, although the review makes it clear that businesses within Remploy should be given an opportunity to prove themselves viable, they have not been given any timescale within which to prove themselves viable and the decision has come far too early for that to be the case?

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I agree very much with Mark McDonald. I will come to that a little later in my speech.

In RSBI, in my constituency, those who have returned from Afghanistan and Iraq with disabling illness or injury are given support and training to re-equip them for the world of work. However, today’s success at RSBI required financial investment. It required support and imagination from the management and—importantly—a commitment to go out and look for work. Gordon MacDonald is correct in saying that that is something that Remploy signally fails to do. I know, from press reports, that the First Minister recently visited RSBI and was very impressed by it—who would not be? That is the kind of model that we should be looking at if we are serious about the future of Remploy.

The Scottish Government has indicated that the PACE process could be rolled out to assist Remploy workers. That is very welcome, but we hope that the Scottish Government can go further. The Labour amendment is a sincere suggestion to the Scottish Government about an alternative model that we think can work—a model that gives the community the chance to take control of the situation and which provides sustainable employment for the workforce. We also hope that the Scottish Government will consider carefully how it can further encourage Government agencies and non-departmental public bodies actively to seek opportunities to increase the use of article 19 in their procurement practices. We very much hope that the Scottish Government can support those proposals, and we would be happy to work with the Government, the trade unions and the workers at Remploy to try to secure the future of those workers.

Senior directors of Remploy’s enterprise businesses met the lead officers of the GMB and Unite on Monday and indicated that the first redundancy could take place as early as 4 July, in spite of an accord that promises that voluntary redundancies should be sought before compulsory ones are made. Also, no consideration has been given to how the workers’ pension rights will be protected—at least, that has not been explained to the workers. As on so many other issues, no information has been provided on that.

Mark McDonald is right: the timeframe that has been identified is wrong and gives no opportunity for a meaningful dialogue with Remploy. That is one reason why we look to the Scottish Government for assistance. What is happening is a redundancy process, not a genuine consultation.

I will not argue with Clare Adamson about the history of support for Remploy, but I say to her that we sincerely hope that, at 5 o’clock, our parties can join together with anyone else who wishes to come with us to show our support for the Remploy workers. It ill behoves the Parliament not to be united when we are all here to try to support those workers.

I genuinely hope that the Government party will join us in considering a modest suggestion of a way forward for the Remploy workers. If we really care about what is in the workers’ best interests, the SNP will vote for Labour’s amendment.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The debate has been interesting. Murdo Fraser was correct to say that it is about reserved responsibilities, but members’ concerns about the future of the Remploy factories in Scotland deserve to be heard in our national Parliament. The debate has afforded us an opportunity to do that. A number of members have taken the opportunity to express their views and concerns forthrightly.

Last year, I had the good fortune to visit the Remploy factory in Edinburgh at the invitation of the staff there. Although Liz Sayce’s report says that at times the factories do not have enough to do, I was struck by the amount of work that was being undertaken, from packaging through to electronics. Under the modernisation project, the factory had recently invested significantly in securing electronic document scanning and storage equipment. As a result, it had secured a contract from a local authority’s archive department to scan and store its documents.

One challenge for the factory in pursuing that contract was the uncertainty about the future of Remploy factories in Scotland and other parts of the UK. Ken Macintosh mentioned the fear and anxiety that staff have experienced in recent years, which goes back to 2007, when the modernisation process caused Remploy staff considerable fear and anxiety. I know from those to whom I spoke at the Edinburgh factory that the situation has continued to cause them concern and anxiety.

I agree with Ken Macintosh that the debate is not about two alternative models of employment. Supported employment has a role to play when it is suitable for individuals, and open employment has a part to play for disabled people who choose to go down that route. It is important that we get the balance correct. What struck me most about the Remploy factory was that it is more than just a place of employment; it is a community setting in which many of the staff have worked together for many years.

Several members have mentioned the difficulty that disabled people can experience in getting into employment, because of the challenges that they face as a result of their disability. I, for one, accept that there is certainly more to be done. I suspect that all Governments of whatever shade could always do more to ensure that disabled people are treated with equality and respect in our labour market.

There are ways in which the Government can assist with that. We are pursuing that through our new equality fund, which contains £3 million per annum for the next three years. A key element of that will be support for activities to decrease the disadvantage and inequality that disabled people face in the employment setting. A good thing is that a number of the applications to that fund for the coming year focus on assisting people with disabilities in gaining employment. We hope to make announcements on that in April.

A number of members mentioned public procurement and the difficulties that supported employment organisations can have in securing contracts. The general tone of the debate has been one of recognition that progress has been made in the area. Some might feel that not enough progress has been made and that what progress there has been has not been at the speed that they would have liked.

However, one of the key elements of the work that we have been taking forward as a Government over recent years is an attempt to ensure that our public sector bodies have a better understanding of what can be provided by supported employment organisations. In order to reinforce that process, we have ensured that the public procurement contract website, www.publiccontractsscotland.gov.uk, automatically alerts public bodies who use the site when an item of equipment or a service can be provided by a supported employment business, which means that they will consider it as an option. The latest data confirm that we are making progress: they show that Scottish public bodies have spent in the region of £24 million on contracts with supported employment businesses in Scotland, although I accept that more could be done. Fergus Ewing highlighted that at the start of the debate. We are determined to do more where we can.

Photo of Jenny Marra Jenny Marra Labour

Will the minister commit to having a conversation with Roseanna Cunningham and Kenny MacAskill on the specific issue of using article 19 to procure uniforms for the new police and fire services?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I have conversations with my colleague, Roseanna Cunningham, almost every day, and I am more than happy to explore that issue with her. It is important to recognise that the use of article 19 is not new; it is already used for many public contracts. Jenny Marra asked specifically about the uniforms of the new fire and police services. She will accept that it is wrong to give the impression that, through one contract, we can secure the future of Remploy. This must be about ensuring that the Remploy businesses are sustainable. It is also important to acknowledge that the bodies that will let the contract will be the new police and the fire services; the Government does not purchase those uniforms. I have no doubt that those bodies will, in making decisions on uniforms, consider whether use of a supported employment organisation is the best option.

I regret how the UK Government has gone about making the announcement on Remploy. Several members referred to that during the debate and John Pentland talked about the limited notice that the Scottish Government had received. My understanding is that Fergus Ewing was given less than two hours’ notice of the announcement. That is regrettable and it undermines the so-called respect agenda.

From an early stage, we said to the UK Government that we wanted to be involved as early as possible, because we wanted to explore whether there were alternative models that could be developed before a final decision was made on the future of the Remploy factories. I regret that our willingness to work in partnership and co-operation with the UK Government on this matter was not reciprocated. As a result, we have found ourselves in a situation in which we now have to address the problems following the decision that has been made by the UK Government.

The Presiding Officer:

The minister is just winding up.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

My colleague, Fergus Ewing, said quite clearly that the Government has to work urgently on the matter, as Helen Eadie, whose commitment to this issue I respect, has asked us to do. We will do everything that we can, in working with the various partner organisations, to see whether an alternative sustainable model can be found in order that we can retain the Remploy factories in Scotland. We will ensure that that work is driven at a ministerial level. Fergus Ewing has given a clear commitment to ensure that that happens.

I sympathise with the spirit of the Labour amendment, but my principal concern about it is that it links itself to a specific model. At this juncture, we should keep all options open to try to find a way to secure the long-term viability of the Remploy factories. The Government is committed to doing that. Moreover, I hope that we will send a very clear signal to the Remploy employees who are here today that we, as a Parliament, are united in working to address their concerns and, if possible, to find a model that can work.