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.”
“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.