Remploy (United Kingdom Government Response)

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

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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.