Remploy (United Kingdom Government Response)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 22nd March 2012.

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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.