The Socialist 7 June 2007
Labour cheats NHS
Remploy management squander opportunities
REMPLOY HAVE announced the closure of 43 factories. If this goes ahead, around 2,500 disabled people will lose their jobs. The danger will be that many will never work again and their skills will rust away.
Seán McGovern, secretary, TGWU 1/1971 Remploy branch
The company spin is that they will be employed in mainstream jobs but most disabled workers are at Remploy because mainstream employers have rejected them.
It was Tory Minister Michael Portillo who kick-started Remploy's descent, when in 1994 he ended a scheme guaranteeing the factories' priority for government contracts. This imposed competitive tendering on the company.
Remploy's more recent problems stem from its board of directors and senior management. They have no imagination. They merely function to spend the subsidy paid to Remploy.
They have squandered opportunities - like the Glastonbury t-shirts. A few years ago Mike Eavis (the Glastonbury Festival site owner) wanted to source the t-shirts locally. In collaboration with the trade unions, he offered one of Remploy's Cornwall sites a £1 million-pound contract. Remploy prevaricated about it for a long time. When challenged, a Remploy board member complained about the £50,000 set-up costs!
Remploy is still in the business of prevarication. Rather than ensuring all its factory order books are full and its staff of well-trained and skilled disabled workers are active and productive, it chooses to do nothing.
Since January 2006, each Remploy factory has had the right to a minimum of one reserved public contract. Up to now, there has been no take-up for this scheme. In effect, the company has ignored the opportunity to tap into a reserve of contracts valued at £250 billion per year. A small percent of these contracts would ensure an abundance of work for the entire Remploy factory system. Remploy could produce everything from furniture to nurses', police and armed forces' uniforms and much of the equipment for schools and hospitals.
On 21 May, the day before they announced which factories were to be closed, Remploy gave the knife it had stuck into our backs a cruel twist. They engaged a Senior Public Procurement Manager.
Every Remploy factory now has a learning centre. Though widely used by the workers for a range of courses, these centres remain largely under-utilised. They could offer income-generating opportunities if offered to outside organisations.
The Remploy trade union consortium is the only group that comes out of this debacle with any dignity. They have, along with their activists and members, tried to sort out the mess created by the board and its scorched-earth policies of recent years. We have offered the company an alternative business plan, see the GMB website: www.gmb.org.uk.
Remploy has ignored this feasible action plan, in favour of closing down half the factories. This decision is in keeping with our treacherous bunch of timid, unimaginative managers.
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