18 March 2008

Devolution in Action

Declaration of interest: my father suffers from a mental illness and is in sheltered employment, working at the Remploy Depot in Preston. As such, this story touches a nerve.

Wendy Alexander is calling on Alex Salmond to force Aberdeen City Council to reconsider its plan to close the Glencraft factory, which employs blind and disabled workers.

She is quite right to make the call - at a time when the UK Government wants people off Incapacity Benefit and in work (not a totally unreasonable viewpoint), to close down any option of sheltered employment would be a huge mistake.

However, the UK Government owns Remploy, a nationwide sheltered employment scheme. Remploy have unveiled plans to close 28 factories, at a cost of 2,000 jobs for disabled workers. The plan is to get these 2,000 onto Interwork, basically an employment agency for the disabled. The problem is that while Interwork is supposed to find jobs for the disabled in mainstream employment, but that no assurances have been given that disabled employees will be able to actually get those jobs. The Unions - naturally - are spitting mad, and the only saving grace in the current situation is that the plans originally saw 43 factories close.

It's also worth noting that in the original plans, the Remploy factory in Aberdeen would close as well, along with plants in Hillington and Wishaw. Remply Aberdeen has since won a reprieve, as has Wishaw. Plants in Clydebank, Cowdenbeath, Dundee, Edinburgh and Stirling were never under threat.

Nevertheless, the revision of the plans came after huge pressure on the DWP from Trade Unions, particularly the GMB. And what has Wendy Alexander had to say on behalf of disabled workers in Hillington? What did she have to say on behalf of those in Wishaw, and the Remploy workers in Aberdeen? That#s right, not a dickie bird. While the GMB were busy driving this issue home at the Labour Conference, she was too busy grovelling for Labour's defeat in May. While she is no doubt right to put pressure on the First Minister in this instance, any attempts to lobby Gordon Brown to protect Scottish workers were either far too subtle for the likes of me, or completely non-existent.

Now, this could be that Remploy is in the hands of the UK Government, so Wendy Alexander has opted to leave it in Westminster's capable(?) hands, and pursue a line more conducive to social justice and full employment in the case of Glencraft, where the Scottish Government could help change Aberdeen City Council's mind. Or it could be that Remploy's owners are the Labour UK Government, while Glencraft's are the LibDem-SNP Aberdeen City Council.

I would just love to believe that the former were the case, but I can't. I think she's turning a blind eye to Labour closures and still screaming blue murder when someone else is doing them.

She's saying the right things, but far too late, and for all the wrong reasons.

And you can find out more about the GMB's campaign to defend Remploy, and fight the UK-wide closures, here.


Quiet_Man said...

Your last comment sums up New Labour to a tee.

Anonymous said...

Aberdeen City Council does not own Glencraft. It is an independent charity.

Will said...

I stand corrected, Anon, though ACC have clearly been offering financial aid which is being revised. As such, I would support anything and anyone in favour of keeping the money going, but believe that Wendy Alexander's approach should be viewed in the context of her previous silence.