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25 Mar 2008 : Column 6WH—continued

that is generous—so they thought it better to hold on to the handbook. The Minister continues:

As he did not know what the options were he could hardly decide which one to take, yet the company says, “You don’t get it until you decide on the options, but we are not telling you what the options are until you decide.” What kind of farce is this?

The letter continues:

That is like saying, “Sign on for the Army son, but you don’t have to know that there is a prospect of getting shot.” It is incredible.

Apart from Mr. Phil Davies of the GMB, another person comes out with credit, although unfortunately it will probably condemn his career: Mr. Paul Warren, the Minister’s assistant. At my instigation, he promptly took up the matter, although he took some persuading
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to start with. At my insistence, he spoke with Mr. Precious and realised that we had a problem and something needed to be done about it—so he did it. However, having thanked him for doing that, I must ask why nothing was done before. The situation had gone on for two and a half years. The exasperation is almost incontrollable.

On 21 February, Mr. Precious wrote to me:

at least they got it in the right order—

I wrote to the Minister alerting her to the ludicrous situation in which people have had to go to that extent and commending Mr. Warren on his behaviour. I have asked Rowland Precious to let me have a copy of the Minister’s reply to his letter of 20 February—when the reply arrives.

Precious wrote to me on 27 February in answer to my letter:

I had noticed that myself—

I stress that: he had “already signed the required document”—

It beggars belief. The letter continued:

we have heard of that before—

None available in the Teesside area. Teesside is a big area.

The letter went on:

as Remploy was when it was first set up—

such as the Mercedes, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) referred—

In fact, the work force have broken records before and since—even when their work pattern has been changed.

The work force were so upset about that situation that they were naturally easy prey for the media, so I went along to try to help them make sense of it—for obvious reasons. I did not want the situation to be exaggerated, but I found it impossible to ameliorate it.

In conclusion, I shall read out three statements. The first is from Rowland Precious—length of service, 13 and a half years:

a Friday—

the day before—

been finished. The statement continues:

that the workers can apply for—

For disabled people?

The statement goes on:

Rowland Precious was not saying that when I first took up those cases. I do not think that he is just mimicking me. He is an intelligent man and he has come to his own conclusions.

The next statement is from David Rock: 50 years old, length of service 30 and a half years, which is longer than I have been in Parliament, and that goes back a long time, as you well know, Mr. Atkinson. Mr. Rock says:

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we have heard of him—

That gives some indication—does it not?—of the lack of organisation in that organisation. What an Irishism. Mr. Rock said:

The third statement is from Amanda Campbell, who is 38 and has worked at Remploy for 21 years:

After 21 years? One week’s notice? The statement continues:

I need to think about that final paragraph, because I do not follow it myself. What I do follow, however, is that there has been an atrocious record of mismanagement and a dismissive attitude, and it has gone on for two and a half years. It is not just the management. It is not just that they have taken the easy way out, or that they are outsourcing work to countries in eastern Europe; it is that the Department, with the exception of Mr. Warren, who responded to my telephone call, has manifestly failed to monitor what the management were doing and to assess their failure to fulfil their responsibilities. In other words, the Department has failed to conduct its duties with due care and attention.

It is my intention to see that there is a memorial Remploy debate every year to remind every Minister that they cannot just allow things to go on behind their backs in spite of what they say ought to go on. Things must be checked. Simply issuing an instruction is not sufficient; any sergeant-major could tell us that. It is not just a question of issuing an instruction, but of ensuring that the instruction is carried out responsibly and faithfully. That has not happened in the case of Remploy, which is an absolute disgrace.

10.10 am

Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): May I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Frank Cook) on securing this debate
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today and on reminding us in such a moving way that we are talking about vulnerable people who are not being treated very well?

I want to make a brief contribution to the debate and refer to the Remploy factory in my constituency in Poole. It seemed that we had received good news on that factory, because it was proposed for closure and was then reprieved, but it lost its product, which was a marine product. Bearing in mind that we have the headquarters of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in Poole, that we are a major sailing centre and that we are very close to Southampton, we could have secured extra orders from within the vicinity to keep the factory producing that same product.

We have been told that there must be a new product in the factory, so what is happening now? The answer is that machinery is being taken away. I am pleased that there is another factory that will be taking on board the orders and that some Remploy employees in Scotland will keep their jobs, but the employees in the Poole factory are seeing, day by day, the machinery being taken away and realising that they will not have orders. There are set dates when the existing orders will just come to an end. The employees in the Poole factory are being offered increased redundancy pay. What should people do in those circumstances? There is uncertainty and bewilderment among the employees, because they do not know what the new product will be and because the factory is being run down. Surely we need to treat people better than that.

I agree with the earlier point that redundancy was not the right option for some Remploy employees, who will sit behind closed doors and not socialise—perhaps they will be tempted into alcohol abuse or all sorts of other problems. We have a responsibility here, and I join the hon. Member for Stockton, North in asking what type of management is that? If management are promising a new product, should they run down their factory and reduce the work force to only 16 to 20 people, who still do not know what the new product is?

I recently met the new employee at the Poole factory who will be responsible for public procurement, and the meeting was positive—I liked his approach. I went into that meeting wholeheartedly. I have dutifully written to all the leading people in the town who can form my champions group. I want to lead that group with enthusiasm and vision, but I cannot do so until I have received some answers to my questions. The existing situation in the factory must be stabilised while we search for the new product. Talking vaguely about “scanning”, which is the only example of a new product or new service that I have heard so far, is a long way removed from the skilled techniques required to work on machines that are used to make lifejackets and so on.

As the Minister will recall, I had a vision for the Poole site. The site is large, and I am not averse to half of it being sold to reinvest in a centre of excellence for training the disabled. I realise that we need to change over time, but I want to protect the existing vulnerable work force in Poole. I want to see short-term work in a work situation, the provision of IT suites and the creation of something positive, but others have not developed such a vision.

Frank Cook: The concern that the hon. Lady has expressed is important, but it is not only disabled folk in factories whom we must consider. What does she think
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about disabled people returning from Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo and other such places who will need that kind of engagement, while the factories that could accommodate them are being closed?

Annette Brooke: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that comment. As the Minister knows, it is part of my vision to have a training centre for the 21st century, which will have IT suites alongside basic work disciplines. We have to move on, and the returning troops who are disabled will probably be looking for jobs in IT rather than for jobs using sewing machines and so on. We must manage the process properly.

I have a question for the Minister: is this process slow death by poison, or can we turn the situation around and deliver the vision, which will benefit Dorset, support the many people on incapacity benefit who need to get into work and, most importantly, help the vulnerable people in the Poole factory, who need adequate support? I agree with the hon. Member for Stockton, North, that creating uncertainty and bewilderment through appalling management of the transition from one product to another is not the way to treat people.

10.15 am

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): It is a great pleasure to take part in this debate, although the subject is very serious and very sad. I also apologise for being slightly late in attending today. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Frank Cook) on securing the debate. I, too, will home in on the situation in my own constituency, rather than discussing Remploy in general.

There has been a Remploy factory in my constituency in Ystradgynlais for many years. Ystradgynlais is a rather deprived part of Wales, at the top of the Swansea valley, and indeed all the communities at the top of the south Wales valleys feel themselves to be at a disadvantage, because they are far away from the more economically active parts of Wales in the south-east around Cardiff, Swansea and the M4 corridor.

The factory in Ystradgynlais has also been linked with the factory in Brynamman in the neighbouring constituency of Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr. The hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price) has been working with me and a range of organisations to see whether we can secure a Remploy presence in the local area, because the factories in Ystradgynlais and in Brynamman have both been earmarked for closure.

The employees in those factories were aware that they had to move with the times and that they had to be as productive and as profitable as possible. They realised that the best way to do that was to bring the two operations on to one site. I have not corresponded with Remploy for some time, but, unfortunately, I do not believe that that merger will be possible, yet the two sets of workers were prepared to make sacrifices and to work together. Indeed, not only were the employees in both factories prepared to work together, but so were the local authorities, the trade unions and all the voluntary organisations that had an interest in Remploy.

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