Following the Government announcement that the Remploy furniture business will move to closure and all employees remain at risk of compulsory redundancy Neath MP Peter Hain said,
“The announcement by the Government is desperately disappointing and devastating news for employees at Remploy’s Baglan site now facing redundancy and the prospect of competing in the highly competitive local jobseekers market. At a time when the jobs market is already saturated with four people chasing every vacancy in Neath, Remploy workers are being thrown to the wolves by the Government. For generations Remploy provided a safe environment for people with disabilities allowing them to contribute to the economy and putting ability first.
“The business in Baglan and its workforce, which has built up a strong reputation for producing high quality furniture, has been let down by the Government first by withdrawing support and now by the long protracted commercial process, leaving the workforce in limbo with the Sword of Damocles hanging over them, and which has ultimately failed. I will be liaising with management and the Trade Unions but there is no getting away from the fact that this is a terrible day for Remploy workers.”
Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): But is not the truth that amid all the Minister’s spin and management-speak, she is strangling Remploy to death, and there is no prospect of the most vulnerable disabled workers in their 50s who work there all the time getting jobs in mainstream employment? By the way, her description of the 2008 programme is a total travesty. There was a £550 million subsidy for that, which she has cut savagely, and there was a programme for getting people into mainstream work, too. Also, she has given no guarantees, despite my asking the Secretary of State, and nor has the preferred bidder, who is based in Yorkshire, that the Neath Port Talbot site at Baglan will remain open. Can she give a guarantee on that now?
Esther McVey: I have a couple of points to make to the right hon. Gentleman. There was no spin in what I said; those were the numbers, and he is more than welcome to verify them. As for his comment about strangling, that is incorrect, too. I would say “liberating”. That is why some of the factories that closed have reopened and we are supporting them as best we can. If I were him, I would claim no credit for spending £555 million in 2008 on a modernisation process that went nowhere, or for estimates for contracts in the public sector that were grossly exaggerated—by 130%—and which never came to pass. Ours are real, they have been justified, they are monitored by an expert panel and KPMG is involved as well.
Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Has the hon. Lady any idea how arrogant and out of touch she sounds this afternoon? This is a shameless betrayal of thousands of disabled workers who have been in sheltered employment—not segregated employment, but sheltered employment—all their lives and will never find jobs when there are no jobs to be had in areas such as mine, where 10 people are chasing every job vacancy. How can she so cynically misrepresent the modernisation plan that I announced at the end of 2007—£555 million, dependent on Government-supported procurement and public sector-backed job opportunities? None of that has been put in place. It has not failed; it has not been allowed to succeed by this out-of-touch Government.
Maria Miller: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for coming in for today’s statement and for being able to participate in the statement process, because he more than anybody knows the very real dilemma that was faced under the previous Administration with Remploy, and I pay tribute to the work that he did to try to give Remploy an opportunity to get back on its feet. He will know that there are more than 12,000 disabled people in his constituency, and the Neath furniture factory will continue through the summer process, which I am sure he welcomes. I hope that he would want to ensure that more of those 12,000 people receive the sort of support that I know he feels can work.