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.