Fight for dignity: When the government announced in March last year that 36 Remploy factories would close, unions campaigned alongside workers in a bid to help them maintain the dignity they keep by holding a job and paying their way.
Today we learned that the last remaining Remploy factories in Scotland are to close, in what I can’t help thinking is a last act of spite by the Conservatives against disabled people living north of the border.
Employees at the Marine and Frontline Textile factories at Leven, Cowdenbeath, Stirling, Dundee and Clydebank will be thrown onto the dole, albeit with help from the government’s funded package to help them get into mainstream employment.
We have no idea how well this package works, despite its having been in use since March last year, when Maria Miller announced the government was closing 36 of what were then 54 Remploy factories. A BBC article in May stated that the DWP was “aware of” 351 former employees who have found new jobs – fewer than a third of the laid-off workforce. We don’t know whether any of those jobs were a result of help from the government package.
Also facing the dole are disabled workers at Packaging factories in Norwich, Portsmouth, Burnley and Sunderland, bringing the total number of job losses up to 234.
Employees were well aware of the situation – an announcement before Christmas made it clear that 875 jobs were at risk, on top of the 1,700 axed in March last year, with only an automotive business and (ironically) employment services remaining safe.
The Frontline and Packaging factories were slated for closure then, and the marine textiles business was described at the time as making “significant losses” despite an established market position. It was not considered sellable as a going concern.
It was, therefore, surprising to hear Esther McVey say, in a statement today, that there had been “considerable interest” in the Scottish factories.
She went on to say Remploy “did not receive a Best and Final Offer for these businesses as part of the commercial process”. Why not?
And she added that there were no viable bids for Packaging. This implies that there were bids, and begs the question: What was wrong with them?
Also, on the day the government announced new help for businesses considering a change to employee-ownership or co-operative status, was this never considered for the Remploy factories? If not, why not?
That question becomes urgent when one considers the following, again from Ms McVey’s speech: “Businesses like textiles which didn’t have commercial interest and closed afterwards re-opened as social enterprises or new businesses, and in fact nine sites have been sold on that basis. This has resulted in employment opportunities for original employees.
“For example, businesses have opened under new ownership in the Bolton and Wigan factory premises, who are looking to create up to 35 job opportunities for disabled people, including former Remploy employees.
“In addition Remploy have confirmed already they have received an asset bid from a Social Enterprise organisation for the purchase of assets from within the Textiles business. This may have the potential to create employment opportunities for disabled people.”
If that is the case, they why has the government not considered restructuring the businesses along these lines, and leaving them to the employees – to manage as they will?
After all, according to the same government which is planning to close these factories without having considered this way forward for them, “Employee-owned businesses enjoy greater staff retention, innovation and motivation than non-employee owned businesses and, in turn, these deliver wider economic benefits including increased productivity, profitability and more resilience to economic shocks”.
All of the above makes it very hard to believe another statement made by Ms McVey: “We have always made it clear that this is about supporting the individuals in the factories, and disabled people across the country. £50 million was going into funding failing factories which meant £50 million not available to support disabled people across the country.”
Unfortunately for her, we know that this government has been cutting support for the disabled, partly by refusing them benefits, pretending that they are lying or deluded about their disabilities.
And her claim that, “As announced in the Spending Review, the Government further committed to continuing to support disabled people to move into, remain in, and progress in work” rings hollow when one considers the appalling result of the government’s work programme for people on Employment and Support Allowance.
It managed to hit only one-third of its target. Only 5.5 per cent of people on ESA were moved into employment via the work programme, compared with an expectation that 15 per cent of them would have, if they had been left to their own devices (the targets are based on numbers of people who would otherwise get work, plus 10 per cent. The work programme’s result – 5.5 per cent – is significantly lower than its target of 16.5 per cent).
All of this, coupled with the possibility of Scotland seceding from the Union after next year’s referendum, points to the possibility that the Conservatives are using Remploy as one last, great act of spite for our cousins north of the border.
I would just like to make it clear that this has nothing to do with me. I neither support nor condone it and I think more could have been done to find a fruitful way forward.
Scottish people always saw through the Conservatives – look at the way they reacted to the imposition of the Poll Tax, back in 1989 or thereabouts.
I fear for the rest of the UK if we should lose that perspective after the referendum.