|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
writing to inform you of the outcome of a period of intensive consultations with the trade unions over plans to modernise Remploy.
He went on to tell me how long the process had taken and how concerned Remploy was to ensure that individuals with certain incapacities and disabilities would be found suitable employment elsewheremainstream employment, he called it. He said that Remploy would monitor that employment throughout and ensure that those people were not exploited in any way, and that they would have every benefit that they would normally get in a Remploy atmosphere.
That was all very assuring. I thought at the time, This sounds a bit too good to be true, and, as my old granny used to say, If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. That is how it has turned out. Since then I have had so much conflicting information and so much that is patently misinformation that I felt compelled to request a second debate on the matter. There has already been a debate on it, and my hon. Friend the Minister had the problem of responding to it. I shall refer to her responses in due course.
After Mr. Waterhouses charming onslaught, I received various contacts from trade unionistsSean McGovern, John Thorman, Neville Andersonand from the Stockton and district trades council. Most telling was the delegation that came to me from my local factory, which I know quite well. It must be 22 years ago, three years after I came into this place, that the staff there presented me with a quarter-bound, leather-bound book on the history of Stockton. I have to admit that I have never read it, but it is a beautiful piece of bookbinding, which I display on my bookshelf with pride.
Since then, the factory has changed its skills four times. On each occasion it has reskilled to an excellent standard and reports have been received saying that it
has been excellent. In other words, it has done everything required of it to produce a revenue stream that justifies its existence. A delegation came to see me and, rather ironically, two of the delegation were a couple whose engagement party I had attended at the factory. The reason for my doing that was that the lady in the item had been one of my pupils when I was a schoolmaster many years ago. I know those people quite well, and they know me. For some reason, they trust me, which is why I am trying on their behalf today.
We were informed, yesterday, that Remploy Stockton, is one of the proposed sites for closure. This proposal is based on incorrect information. The work it is based on is Scanning documents under the Offiscope Group of Remploy. Remploy, Stockton changed from Offiscope to e-Cycle a year ago. As a result we changed trade from Scanning to Computer recycling and we have been highly praised, by a number of senior managers.
Mr. Precious had felt so concerned about the threat of closure that he had written to Bob WarnerI suppose that I ought to explain to hon. Members, in case they do not know, that he is the chief executive of Remploy. I would not like to minimise his statuswho is an important man. I do not think that he is disabled, although that might be debateable. Mr. Precious wrote to Mr. Warner:
On 22 May...we were shown a video which informed us that Stockton factory was to close. A justification letter was read out that document preparation and scanning was no longer a viable business.
We then informed the person sent to deliver this message that the information in it was both out of date and incorrect.
Stockton factory ceased scanning documents a year ago, (as part of Offiscope). We have very successfully been recycling computers...for the past year.
would like to know why our closure has been based on out of date and incorrect information.
I am sorry that the message read out...did not reflect the work that the factory is currently doing.
The proposal last Tuesday was the start of the consultation process and we will look again at the capacity requirement of the IT recycling
as part of that process.
Well, the amount of consultation that has taken place on the Stockton factory from 30 May to date has been absolutely zero, but the manager left to go to another factory, ostensibly to conduct some business. In fact, it was for interview and he got a job elsewhere in the organisation and left the staff in Stockton to their own
devices. I am afraid that that is typical of the attitude that has been displayed throughout the process. It is an attitude that, I have to say, I did not join the Labour party or become an MP to defend. You can anticipate, Mrs. Anderson, that my words are hardly going to be complimentary from now on.
We are convinced that our strategy is the right one. We also know that our view that Remploy should change is supported by the main disability charities.
That is another somewhat misleading claim. The charities that say that they support change are in favour of disabled people gaining mainstream employment, but they do not support that move at the cost of closing Remploy factories. It is mendacious to try to suggest that they do. Perhaps Mr. Warner learned from some of our colleagues how to represent, or misrepresent, actuality.
Remploy will be conducting a formal consultation programme with the trade unions over the summer. When this is completed we will need to finalise a submission to Ministers for approval and funding. The company would expect to be in a position to implement towards the end of the year.
In an attempt to put Mr. Warner back on the rails, Mr. Phil Davies, who is the secretary of the consortium of trade unions that is seeking to introduce some logic and compassion into the situation, sent a letter to Remploy. It is dated 1 June, before the last debate. Phil Davies stated:
The information that the company has sent us falls far short of our legitimate expectations, it does not fulfil the consultation requirements and it is likely to expose the Remploy Board to further ridicule.
some £88 million from the DWP Modernisation Fund a mere £8 million is to be used for retraining, job placement, support and counselling.
Whereas 10 times that sum is earmarked to be spent on redundancy, early retirement packages...and maintaining Remploy terms and conditions.
A financial miscalculation has been made. If I had conducted my management responsibilities in industry before coming into this House in the way suggested in the letter, I would have been sacked out of hand. I would have had to throw my keysthe keys to the car as wellon the desk and leg it off the site.
In recent weeks you have been orchestrating a concerted campaign in the pages of the Guardian and elsewhere in an attempt to soften up MPs and the public in preparation of closures.
When I read that, I thought, By God, hes right, and I was part of it. That was all the soft soap that I had from Mr. John Waterhouse on 4 May. I am somewhat ashamed thatbecause I wanted to think that things would be all right, that jobs would be available and that Remploy would be able to achieve what it was setting out to achieveI thought the proposal was great and accepted it. Now I am finding out just how wrong I was.
The trade unions are not only criticising the situation. They put forward their own considered plan, on which they have spent some time. They asked Mr. Warner to co-operate with them by providing details, not a summary, of the full business case and the financial analysis, the losses and absentee rates for each of the 83 factories for each of the past two years, the idle and non-production time, the details of investment in the 83 factories, and an updated property portfolio. Phil Davies wrote:
In your 22 May announcement, you stated that one of the selection criteria used was the prevailing local employment conditions.
You specifically mentioned that the two factories that otherwise would have been selected for closure were to be kept open due to high local unemployment...Please provide the local employment data that you have used against each of the 83 factories.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): First, I must apologise to my hon. Friend that I have to leave to meet a Minister at 3.30 pm, but I congratulate him on securing this debate on Remploy. Has he ever seen a balance sheet for the Stockton factory? Indeed, does he know whether any Members have received transparent accounts for any of their Remploy factories? I certainly have not for the Bolton factory.
Frank Cook: The only way that I can answer that is to say that the employees, if we can use that term, at the Stockton factory have consistently posed questions to which they have never received clear answers. They have received obfuscation, evasion or silence.
I do not know whether there is any need to refer to the report by the group of MPs that has been reviewing the Remploy situation. MPs spent a lot of time making visits and applying their minds enthusiastically and clinically to some of the problems. They gave a list of things that needed to be done if Remploy is to sort out its remit. Remploy is justifying its decisions by saying that they are being imposed on it by the Governments requirement that it remain within a funding envelope of £555 million over the next five years. There are other ways of achieving that, and the unions have applied their minds and all their skillsthey are not inexperiencedto the matter.
the process has not failed. The trade unions and management will meet next week to discuss the proposals. I return to my earlier commentthere has been an extensive lead-in to the discussion of the proposals. At the moment, they are just proposals. Nothing has been confirmed.[Official Report, 13 June 2007; Vol. 461, c. 318WH.]
May I quote from a letter of 12 June, which was written the night before the Minister responded to the last debate? It is from Mr. Ray Fletcher of Bicester, Oxfordshire. I hope that he has not been flooded out. He states that he is writing as someone
who worked as a member of the Board of Remploy for more than nine years...I have always believed that Remploy can play a
significant part in achieving full inclusion of disabled people in UK society through the world of work and still feel that this is the case.
cannot be proud of a plan which will force disabled people from their existing jobs and is already increasing fear and anxiety amongst Remploy employees...there is no doubt in my mind that Remploy can change without the enforced closure of factories and without a loss of jobs amongst disabled people...I am particularly concerned that solutions being proposed for Remploy are far more impactive on the very people Remploy is there to support than anyone else.
Can costs be reduced without loss of disabled peoples jobs? Yes.
Is it possible to stay within the governments funding envelope and not close factories? Yes.
Can the factories be used as places for vocational rehabilitation and training and development of disabled people? Yes.
Is it possible to significantly increase progressions from factories? Yes.
Is it possible to align Remploy factories to the local community organisations of disabled people? Yes.
Is it possible to use the Remploy factories as a base for increasing access to Pathways to Work and other routes from benefit to work? Yes.
Is it possible to reconfigure Remploys status so that it becomes more of an organisation of and for disabled people? Yes.
I have to advise that I dealt directly with the Remploy trade unions for more than nine years and whilst we had many heated debates we managed to agree many significant changes through dialogue and discussion...It is my personal view that there is an alternative to the current plans for Remploy factories and it would be in everyones interest for an alternative plan to be examined and committed to before embarking on a plan that would be negative for existing employees.
Mr. Skinner: I am not from the north-east, but I am interested in this matter because I raised it at the Durham miners rally when many of my hon. Friends and constituents of mine and other MPs were present. I also have a Remploy factory in my constituency that is due for closure. My hon. Friend said that his factory has changed four times. Feasibility studies should be done on the floods to see whether anything can be done to provide the wherewithal to deal with them in future. Feasibility studies should be done on climate change. That is a new thing on the horizon. But the main thing that I was told at Durham was that for people who go to work at Remploy, it is like joining a family, and they are members of a union. They resent the fact that they will not be part of a family and could finish up at McDonalds or a non-trade union firm. We have got to preserve the family, whether it is in Durham, Pinxton or wherever.
Frank Cook: I thank my hon. Friend for emphasising that point because when Rowland Precious, who is a highly intelligent and articulate gentleman, led a delegation to see me, he made exactly the same point and punched it home to great effect, raising in my mind another iniquitous aspect of the situation. He said, You know, we arent just disabled in one sense; some of us are disabled in many ways. There are all sorts of things; not just physical disabilities, but asthma, anxiety, hearing loss, sight impairment or other problems. It could be a combination of things, but we all help each other and we all know how to help each other.
It occurred to me that the management have all their capacities. I do not think any of the management are disabled; at least, I have not met anyone from the management who is. If we have people with the intelligence of Rowland Precious, why should he not be in a management position and be allowed to make management decisions with compassion for his fellow workers? Instead, we have people who are running around and changing their job because they see a threat on the horizon. They are moving out, or legging it. In politics I think that we call it doing the chicken run. I am sure that we could run the Remploy organisation with people who have perfectly adequate grey cells and who would do it a good deal more effectively, efficiently and cheaply.
Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway) (Lab): Before my hon. Friend leaves the issue of the family nature of the factories, I, too, am not from the north-east, but I also have a Remploy factory that is due for closure and the family nature of the factory is apparent to people the minute they go into it and every time they visit it. My hon. Friend will be aware that much of this problem is based on a portmanteau statement that has come from the Government, which states as a matter of certainty that
There is now an acceptance that disabled people
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|