This week the Scottish Government announced measures to support workers affected by the closure of Remploy factories across the country.
Under a Scottish Government grant scheme, firms will be encouraged to take on former Remploy staff with the offer of a subsidy to help pay for training and recruiting.The subsidy will be worth up to £5000 for each employee over 18 months of employment. There will also be a dedicated taskforce to build on joint working that will support workers to find jobs.
While I warmly welcome the support announced in the statement, there are shortcomings. I am disappointed that the Scottish Government’s grant scheme did not go as far as the Welsh Assembly which commits to cover up to 75% of the wage costs for a company or 100% for a public body to take on one of the employees for up to four years.
During the statement, I made my preference for social enterprises and co-operatives to be promoted as potential operators of the Edinburgh factory clear.
This came following concerns raised with me by trade union officials regarding the sale of assets from the factory. The concerns relate to a potential conflict of interest and alleged breach of Remploy’s commercial confidentiality
The suggestion that inside knowledge of Remploy’s situation was used to engineer an opportunity for a private company is a very serious allegation which calls into question the transparency of the process and I have called on the UK Government to undertake an investigation of the circumstances. As Edinburgh Remploy is now closed it means that any staff taken on by Redrock will not have their previous terms and conditions protected as they will be deemed to be new employees. I am therefore now going to ask for a meeting with Redrock to find out exactly what their intentions are.
As with the debate at the end of November, I was broadly supportive of the Scottish Government’s actions. There is, however, still more that they can do in relation to the level of support provided and the committment to promote supported employment contracts in the public sector. My fear now is that the uncertainty over the existence of Remploy workplaces will become an excuse for the Scottish Government not to maximise the use of supported employment in public sector contracts. I agree with colleagues’ suggestions that wheelchairs and uniforms currently being made by Remploy factories be used for Government contracts as an immediate way to secure jobs.