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Employment Support

Volume 541: debated on Wednesday 7 March 2012

With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the reform of specialist disability employment support.

Today, the Government have published a Command Paper, setting out our plans for specialist disability employment support and summarising our responses to the Sayce review. Let me make one thing clear: these are difficult decisions, but the current system is not working for disabled people. Employment rates for disabled people remain almost 30% below those of non-disabled people. Exclusion from the labour market leads to exclusion from society at large, and I do not think that anybody in the House wants to see that happen.

That is why, back in 2010, we asked Liz Sayce to conduct a review of how we might make specialist employment support for disabled people work better. The review was detailed and comprehensive, and it took views from disabled people, disabled people’s organisations and many hon. Members in the House today. Today, the Government have published their response to that report, outlining how we intend to reform specialist disability support for the future. It includes putting £15 million more into Access to Work, a scheme that has been proven to be extremely successful in supporting disabled people into mainstream employment.

I have agreed that the funding for residential training colleges should be extended until the end of the academic year 2012-13, something that I know many hon. Members present will support as well. That will allow those colleges time to determine and to implement future change. They provide support into employment which is clearly valued, although costly, and we need to take further time to consider the options for the future.

We have also taken a difficult but important decision on the future of Remploy. The responses to the consultation on the Sayce review strongly endorsed the idea that money to support disabled people into employment should follow individuals, not institutions, and that Remploy factories should be set free from Government control. The responses also supported the view that Government-funded, segregated employment is not consistent with the objective of disability equality, which is at the heart of what this Government stand for.

We know that roughly 2,200 disabled people are supported by Remploy’s enterprise businesses, at a cost each year of about one fifth of the total budget for specialist disability employment programmes. Despite significant investment in those businesses, the cost of each employment place remains some £25,000 per year, compared with an average Access to Work award of just under £3,000.

The current system is not using the money that we have available most effectively, and in these difficult economic times we have to look at that very carefully. The current situation is not sustainable, and it is simply not working for the majority of the 7 million disabled people who live in all our constituencies throughout the country.

If money is spent more effectively, up to 8,000 more unemployed disabled people could be supported into mainstream employment, something I am sure the House will agree is the right approach. That is why I have decided to accept and implement the Sayce review recommendations on Remploy. That will be done in two stages. In stage 1, the Government will reduce their current subsidy to Remploy from the beginning of the new financial year, so that we cease funding factories that make significant losses year after year and restrict funding to those factories that might have a prospect of a viable future without a Government subsidy.

Remploy’s board was asked to consider the impact of the decision before it was made, and as a result of the decision to reduce current funding the board is proposing—subject to important consultation with staff and unions—to close by the end of this year the 36 factory sites that it considers unlikely to be able to achieve independent financial viability.

Remploy will shortly begin collective consultation with its trade unions and the management forums on the proposed closure of those factories, and on the potential compulsory redundancy of 1,518 disabled people at those sites and those associated with them. In stage 2, the Department for Work and Pensions will work with the Remploy board to identify whether these potentially viable Remploy businesses can be freed from Government control, including by employee-led commercial exit or open-market sales, and how this might be achieved.

I recognise that this announcement will be difficult news for the staff in Remploy factories and understand that they have will have concerns about the future. As part of collective consultation, the Remploy board will consider all proposals to avoid compulsory redundancy. Moreover, we are absolutely committed to supporting Remploy employees with an £8 million comprehensive personalised package of support for all those who are affected by these proposals. Any disabled member of staff who is made redundant will receive an individual offer of up to 18 months’ help with the transition from Government-funded sheltered employment to mainstream employment. This support will include access to a personal budget—on average, £2,500—to aid that transition. We will also be working with employers and the Employers’ Forum on Disability to look to offer targeted work opportunities for all displaced staff. We will establish a community support fund to provide grants to local disability organisations to support Remploy employees in making the transition from sheltered employment to mainstream employment.

This decision commands the support of disabled people’s organisations and disabled people themselves. It is also a decision that I would have thought the Opposition wanted to support, because back in 2007 the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain) said of Remploy:

“the reality is that it is simply not viable.”—[Official Report, 29 November 2007; Vol. 468, c. 449.]

We, as a Government, have taken forward his plan and have come to a natural point that he, too, would have come to in this process.

The Government’s commitment is to support many more thousands of disabled people into work, and the changes that I am announcing today will enable us to do exactly that. I believe that this strategy better fits the needs and aspirations of disabled people in the 21st century, and a more equal world where disabled people participate fully in the mainstream, not in Government-funded segregated jobs.

I thank the Minister for her statement, but frankly it was a statement that she obviously did not want to give to this House in person. Let me give this advice to the Minister and to Government Members: even if the situation is difficult, it behoves a Minister to come to this House to explain it. [Interruption.]

Order. These exchanges have already been too noisy. The House must calm down. We cannot have a situation in which people trade insults across the Chamber, shouting out “Where is this one or that one?” Let us just cool the temperature and have a decent exchange. The House knows that I will want to facilitate such an exchange.

It is fair to say that Remploy is not an ordinary organisation; it is one that has been part of Government’s provision for disabled people since the second world war. We all recognise, in all parts of the House, that it has had to adapt to changing conditions over the years, but there is no point in the Minister trying to hide behind the statement by my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain). My right hon. Friend came to this House and answered questions in this House, and he made some of the difficult decisions that we hoped would set Remploy on the road to success. Recently, however, there has been only one debate in this House on the future of Remploy, and that was held, thanks to the courtesy of the Backbench Business Committee, in Westminster Hall on 15 December. Today, the Government have tried to abrogate their responsibility as the custodian of the Remploy legacy and as the ultimate employer of the 1,752 people who today found out by written statement, or in some cases from telephone calls from Members of Parliament, that they will no longer be in a job in three months’ time.

Nobody in this House disagrees with the Minister when she says that disabled people want to have a choice about where they work. Nobody argues that such opportunities have not opened up over the past few years for many disabled people. However, many of the opportunities have been offered by organisations such as Remploy that give disabled people a real job in the jobs market. It was clear even from the Sayce review that the best factories offer job satisfaction, a supportive and accessible environment, and a reasonable income for their employees.

I will not run away from the fact that my Government, and I as a Minister, had to wrestle with the issues relating to Remploy. We cannot rewrite history. However, our position on disabled people in 2007 was astonishingly different from what the Minister has put before us today. If she truly believes in co-production, why was there no co-production with the trade unions, the disabled people who work in Remploy and the Remploy board over the past few months? I have the greatest admiration for Liz Sayce and for some of the work that she has done, but to put forward a closure programme that will potentially put 1,700 on the dole on the basis of a report by an individual is not acceptable.

We must recognise the legitimacy of the position of the mainstream of the disability movement, which is that it does not like supported factories or Remploy. However, that does not mean that it is wrong to support people in these factories. Perhaps the mainstream needs to recognise that Remploy offers a real job in a supported environment.

I will put some questions to the Minister before you call me to order, Mr Speaker. In opposition, the Conservative party supported the five-year modernisation plan, so why did the Minister embark on a review nearly two years before that timetable had been exhausted? Why are the Government pulling the funding from the next financial year, which leaves a period of only a few days? Was warning given to the Remploy board before the last couple of weeks that it would have to manage this speed of change and a massive redundancy programme over the next few weeks?

When the modernisation statement was made to the House in 2007, the now Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling)—[Interruption.] Please do not laugh if I pronounce “Ewell” wrong. I do not know how it is pronounced. He said at that time:

“Let me assure Remploy and its employees that the next Conservative Government will continue the process of identifying additional potential procurement opportunities for them and the public sector work force.”—[Official Report, 29 November 2007; Vol. 468, c. 451.]

What has the Minister done, now that the Conservative party is in office, to ensure that her ministerial colleagues fulfil that promise? What discussions has she had with the major procurement Departments, including the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence? Did she look at the procurement opportunities that her Department could have offered to Remploy? What discussions has she had with her colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government to encourage local authorities to consider opening up opportunities for their local factories? What efforts has she made to encourage her colleagues to identify procurement opportunities under article 19?

Given the Minister’s intention to embark on this course of action, how did she involve the board of Remploy and the trade unions in the discussions about the issues identified in the Sayce report? I am not talking about their responses to the consultation, but about what real co-production she was involved in. What recognition did she give to the trade union analysis of the current operation of Remploy’s enterprises and the questions that it raised about the company’s business practices?

There is a feeling around the House that the consultation was flawed from the beginning because the Minister said that she was

“minded to accept the recommendations of the Sayce review”.

A Government cannot start a consultation if they have already said they are minded to accept the recommendations.

By how much will the Minister reduce the subsidy to Remploy in the next financial year and the one after? She highlighted the fact that there may be options for the so-called stage 2 factories. What will those options be, and what criteria will she lay down for the transfer of any business and its associated assets to the open market?

The Minister says that the support that she will give to disabled people who are made redundant will last for up to 18 months and potentially be a personalised budget of £2,500. How is that £2,500 expected to meet the needs of many of the people in Remploy?

Where will the jobs come from? At the factory in Ashington, 35 people are chasing each job, and in Acton—

Order. I say to the shadow Minister that I know these are extremely important matters, but I feel sure that she is bringing her questions to a close. In fact, I am certain that she is in her last sentence.

I am indeed, Mr Speaker.

I finish by saying to the Minister that in each constituency where there are factories at which redundancies will be made, there are tens of people chasing every job. She made a point about the increase in Access to Work, but that scheme requires jobs. Tonight, 1,700 people do not know whether they will have one in three months’ time.

I am very happy to have come to the House today to discuss our proposals. [Interruption.] Communication is very important on this matter, and many Members have had many conversations with me about Remploy over the past two years. I have already laid a written statement and met many of the MPs affected. Indeed, I have spoken to the right hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire), and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has spoken to the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne), who is not in his place.

We take staff communications very seriously indeed on a matter such as this. It is not right for the right hon. Member for Stirling to call into question the way in which it has been managed, because my colleagues at Remploy have put great effort into ensuring that disabled people employed by Remploy are well aware of today’s process. Indeed, we have worked closely together throughout the consultation process. As I have said, there were 1,400 submissions, including from disabled people, Opposition Members and staff at Remploy factories.

Most important of all, this Government decided when we came to office to take forward the modernisation plan that Labour Members had put in place. In these very difficult economic times, we could have taken a different decision, but we chose not to. We chose to stick with that plan and see how things progressed. I am afraid that in year four of the modernisation plan, it is clear that the objectives that Labour set out were simply not going to come to fruition and were not realistic. I think some Opposition Members will know that.

The right hon. Lady asked a number of questions, some of which I believe I may have answered in my statement, but I want to ensure that I have covered every point she made. The Remploy board has been fully informed of all the procedures that we have gone through and all the decisions that have been made, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has spoken to his Opposition counterpart to ensure that he was well informed in advance of today. We ensured that the procurement commitments that Labour put in place were taken forward. In fact, we have been working with Remploy for the past two years to attempt to make the modernisation plan work, but we are where we are and these difficult decisions now needed to be taken.

There has been a great deal of discussion by Opposition Members about the number of jobs that are available to disabled people. I should like to put it on record that the employment services arm of Remploy has done a magnificent job of helping disabled people into work. I believe that many hon. Members will agree with that. Indeed, last year, Remploy’s employment services arm supported 20,000 disabled people throughout the country into work, with 2,000 individuals with disabilities in Wales and another 2,000 in Scotland helped into work. Those jobs are available if individuals can get the support and training to access them.

The decisions are not easy, but we are continuing a policy that the previous Administration started. When we came into government, we confirmed that we would continue that plan. The truth is that the Opposition would have had to make those decisions themselves.

We enlisted the help of experts to try to ensure that our decisions were right. Liz Sayce, in her role in Radar, brings to the matter an expertise that many hon. Members will acknowledge. Today, we are taking forward her recommendations, and I am afraid that I cannot understand the tone or the nature of the right hon. Lady’s remarks.

Labour Members should remember that many factories were closed on their watch, and perhaps they did not make the right decisions then. They would have had to face the same choices. Today’s discussion is not about money because, as Opposition Members know, the money and support for specialist disability employment is protected under the Government—£320 million plus an extra £15 million to ensure that the changes that we are making today will result in more disabled people in work, with more money to support them to do that.

I welcome the extra £15 million that the Under-Secretary has announced today for helping disabled people. Does she agree that we are likely to secure better value for money for that extra funding, and we will be able to help more disabled people, if it goes to individuals rather than institutions?

My hon. Friend is right. In this day and age, we need to recognise that disabled people want to live independent lives. We are committed to that as a Government. To do that, we need to help more disabled people into work and we are more likely to achieve that if we can ensure that that money is used most effectively. The proposals that we are discussing will help an extra 8,000 disabled people into work.

As the Under-Secretary knows, my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) has been very successful in getting public bodies locally to buy furniture from the Swansea Remploy factory. Now that that factory’s order books are full, will she look again at its potential to be cost effective and drop her plans to close it?

The hon. Lady makes an important point. It is important that factories have work to do. All too often in the past, factories have not had enough to do. Indeed, in the very recent past, half of Remploy employees in factories have had nothing to do. I do not find that acceptable, but if there are opportunities to avoid redundancies, we will work with hon. Members of all parties to do that.

I thank the Under-Secretary for her statement and the Opposition spokesperson for her response. The decision is difficult but I believe that it is right. The Under-Secretary knows my views—I have worked in this area for many years. I would like to get a couple of commitments in the House. Will every penny saved remain in the area to help many more thousands of disabled people into work? I do not want it to be a cost-cutting exercise. Secondly, if the Under-Secretary cannot do so this evening, will she bring to the House later some detail about the exact programme over the 18 months to ensure that people from Remploy move into employment?

I can reassure my hon. Friend that every penny that is saved in the programme will be reinvested in supporting disabled people. Indeed, we will spend £15 million more as a result of the real, clear need to ensure that we have sufficient support in place. I can also reassure him that we already have the detailed programme of support for Remploy employees who are affected by today’s announcements. Several Opposition Members attended a meeting that I held earlier to ensure that people have the information to hand. I will continue to hold meetings with hon. Members to ensure that everybody is aware of the support that is in place.

Seventeen hundred people will lose their jobs as a result of this statement, including 1,500 disabled people. The Minister’s case rests on the argument that there are better ways to help disabled people into work than through Remploy. Will she therefore guarantee to come to the House six months after the closures have taken place and detail exactly how many of the 1,500 disabled people who will lose their jobs have gained alternative employment?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We need to ensure that we know what happens to individuals who are affected by the measures announced today. Unfortunately, under the previous Administration, no such tracking was put in place. That was a mistake, and one that this Government will not be repeating. I hope that he is not advocating our retaining segregated employment, but I can absolutely undertake to him that we will monitor and keep track of these measures, because we want to ensure that as many people as possible can enter employment.

I equally support the view that money should follow people and not institutions. As a past employer of excellent disabled people, I found that the support to help them to find us was variable to say the least. What can the Government do to improve that support to establish and build on those connections?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that employers have a vital role to play. All hon. Members will know that there is a great deal more work to do to help employers to understand the very valuable contribution that disabled people bring to the workplace. I am working hard with many disabled people and disabled people’s organisations. Through our new disability strategy, we will ensure that we continue to work with employers to ensure that they see the advantages of employing disabled people, and through our additional support for Access to Work there will be tangible financial support.

So the Minister’s big idea for getting people who are disabled back into work is to start by giving them the sack. There are three factors in Wales being hit hard: seven of the nine Remploy factories in Wales will close; 272 of the 752 employees are in Wales; and jobs are being lost in communities that already face mass worklessness, such as Merthyr Tydfil, Aberdare and Abertillery. What consideration did the Minister give to human costs before making her announcement, or was her only thought the cold logic of the balance sheet?

The hon. Gentleman cannot have been listening to me earlier, because we are talking about supporting more disabled people into employment. As a result of the announcements we have made today, 8,000 more disabled people can seek the support that will make the difference between them being able to get into work and facing a lifetime on benefits. Disabled people in this country should not face a choice between a lifetime on benefits and a job in a segregated factory. They deserve to be able to work for employers such as BT, Royal Mail, Sainsbury and Marks & Spencer, all of which are actively working with Remploy employment services to get people—not only in Wales, but throughout the country—into employment.

We would all like to see more disabled in mainstream employment, but does the Minister accept that some people who work in Remploy factories will not be able to hold down a job in mainstream employment for the longer term? Given that so many people without a disability who are more than capable of working shy away from doing so, should we not do everything we can to support people who could sit at home on disability but who want to go out to work for their own dignity? No fair-minded person questions my hon. Friend’s commitment to improve the lot of people with disabilities, but will she ensure that none of those people from Remploy factories who wants to earn an honest day’s pay will be left behind by her changes?

My hon. Friend and I have spoken about this before. I do not think that we should sell disabled people short. Many disabled people working in Remploy employment factories have excellent skills. I want to ensure that they have the support and opportunity to have the sorts of jobs that I know most disabled people want in their lives. Independent living, not segregation or inequality, is at the heart of the Government’s approach.

Does this statement not sum up this heartless Government inhabiting millionaires’ row? They are sacking hundreds and hundreds of disabled workers in areas of high unemployment. Some of them, in areas such as mine, previously made redundant by Remploy, still have not got jobs. It is time that this Government and their accomplices, these tinpot Liberals, understood that this is the most heartless thing that they have done since they came to power. It is time they went.

Order. Members can have their opinions. Let us cool it and hear the Minister’s answer. I say that to no particular individual but to the whole House. Let us hear the Minister.

I suppose that I should remind the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) that he supported a Government who closed 28 factories. What is inexcusable is that his Government did absolutely nothing on tracking to establish how to put in place the right support for individuals affected by their decisions. The simple truth is that as a result of the Labour party’s approach, the factories have lost £225 million since 2008. That is money that we should have been using to support more disabled people into work, and that is at the heart of our proposals today.

I commend Waitrose in my constituency for its structured programme of employment opportunities for people with disabilities. I also commend my hon. Friend for taking this difficult decision to make the money go further. Will she say a little about the responses from the disability organisations about how to help more disabled people into mainstream employment?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. She is absolutely right: we have to make the money go further and, in these difficult economic times, ensure that the money is being used most effectively. Our consultation on the future of disability employment support received widespread—indeed, almost universal—support from disability organisations. Mind told us:

“We agree that Remploy should be radically reformed, with high quality support for everyone affected”.

Disability Rights UK said:

“We appreciate that the Sayce review has caused some concern… However, we believe segregated employment for disabled people is unacceptable.”

The simple truth is that the Labour party is out of step with the majority of the disability world. I urge it to consider more closely its response to the statement.

I hope that the Minister, as she faces me, feels a little embarrassed for completely misleading me earlier this week. I, in turn, misled people in my factory, and I hope that she apologises for that. I am afraid, once again, that this is the nasty party at work. It has never changed. It has not changed in the 28 years that I have been in the House. It is an absolute disgrace.

Order. Before the Minister replies, I seek confirmation from the right hon. Lady that she was not suggesting the Minister misled her here in the Chamber.

No. We are grateful for that confirmation. The Minister will have heard the question, and she can answer.

And I can say to you, Mr Speaker, that I would never want to mislead the right hon. Lady at all, here or in any other place. I would gently bring to her attention the fact that there are 37 disabled people employed in the Aberdare factory. The loss at that factory last year was £800,000, and that is against an estimated 13,600 disabled people in Cynon Valley who are of working age. Does she not believe that we should be doing more to support those individuals? The proposals in today’s statement will do just that.

May I thank the Minister for her conversations with me in recent months, as she has come to this difficult but, I believe, correct decision today? Many people at the Alder Hills site in my constituency and their families will be worried tonight, but that worry will not be allayed by the invective in the two contributions that we have just heard from the Opposition. Will the Minister say what more we might do to seek the advice of disabled people, so that as they try to access mainstream employment, we can learn from their bad experiences in the past of trying to do that?

I thank my hon. Friend for that comment, and I think he is right that many vulnerable groups and individuals who are listening to this debate will be taking close note of who is trying to offer the support that is needed, and we on the Government Benches want that to be constructive support. He will be aware that we are putting in place a budget of some £8 million, half of which will be used directly for personal support budgets for individuals, both in his constituency and elsewhere—some £2,500 a head. I want that to give every individual who is affected the proper support, so that we do not have a repeat, perhaps, of some of the problems of the past to which Opposition Members have referred.

The Minister has repeatedly refused to give information to Members of Parliament about the viability of individual factories. She is now giving them at the Dispatch Box—she gave them to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). That is a very deficient approach. Today, Liz Sayce said:

“I think it is really important that those factories should be given a chance to show if they can be viable”.

Will the Minister now—finally, on the day that she has announced its closure—give to me the figures about the viability of the Wrexham factory?

The hon. Gentleman will be able to have sight of the report that we have put together, which looked at the whole network to see which factories we could put into a financially sustainable position. Again, however, I would gently remind him that the Wrexham factory in his constituency supports 41 disabled individuals, at a cost of £900,000 last year, against an estimated total of 7,400 disabled people in the Rhondda who are of working age. Does he not want to do more to support—[Interruption.] My apologies, Mr Speaker: in Wrexham—the Rhondda is in the south; Wrexham is in the north.

I have to say that once again I find myself in disagreement with my coalition colleagues on this matter. Can the Minister give an assurance that those companies that are not—[Interruption.] I have to apologise, Mr Speaker: that was a call from the Remploy factory. Can the Minister give an assurance that there will be sufficient help to enable—[Interruption.]

May I seek an assurance from the Minister that those factories that are happily not up for closure at present will be given all sorts of assistance? I would also like her to give an indication, if she can this evening, of what help will be given to those Remploy operations to stay in business. Does she also accept that some people employed by Remploy—many in my constituency have been there for 10 or 15 years—will find it difficult to find other employment?

I am very happy to give my hon. Friend an undertaking that we will want to work together with individuals in factories that are in wave 2 of the process, because we want to find ways for those organisations to succeed. However, he should be aware that we are indeed able to support disabled people into employment, through the employment services programme, so although he rightly says that it can be difficult for people to make that transition, it is not impossible. With the right support, people can move from segregated factories into mainstream employment.

The Minister referred to the £2,500 of transitional funding for the workers, and I note that that is an average figure. If it is to make up the difference between benefits and the wages that the workers would have earned, it will last about six months. If they are still unemployed after that time, will there be further transitional assistance? If not, some of those families will plummet into poverty.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that the money I am talking about will be on top of the quite significant provision that we make for redundancy in the process.

Local authorities in the former Humberside region struggled with a similar problem to that of Remploy involving B-line. In 2007, the then Labour council in North Lincolnshire decided to close B-line down. Since then, there have been far too many people with disabilities presenting to MPs and councils in the area and requiring support. What can my hon. Friend say to those people who will be affected by today’s decision? Specifically, will she assure me and the House that social enterprises will be engaged to help the individuals affected, and that there will be a guarantee that every worker affected will get the maximum support, rather than just the average sum?

I can absolutely assure my hon. Friend that the individuals who are affected by these announcements will receive unprecedented levels of support from the £8 million package. We want to ensure that each individual is given the kind of personalised package of support that they have not received in the past, to enable them to make the transition from segregated employment to mainstream employment. We want to do as much as we can to improve the opportunities for more disabled people to live independent lives.

If the Minister has read the responses to the consultation, she will be aware that, following the last round of voluntary redundancies, a large number of people were still not in work 18 months later. Why does she think it is going to be different this time, when she is proposing compulsory redundancies at a time that she has acknowledged to be one of economic difficulty?

The hon. Gentleman might not have heard me say earlier that, in the last major round of redundancies, which took place under the Labour Government in 2008, no process was put in place to track the progress of individuals who were offered support. Indeed, we found that some 40% of the individuals involved took retirement or early retirement. I want to ensure that people have the right support, and that they can see that there is an opportunity to move forward. Now, more than ever, it is important that we get this right. The last Government ducked these decisions; they did not take the difficult decisions and they did nothing to ensure that disabled people could get the job opportunities that they needed.

The Minister rightly recognises the success of residential training colleges such as the Royal National Institute of Blind People college in my constituency. Will she reassure me and other Members who have such colleges in their constituencies that departmental officials will make themselves fully available to the colleges as they explore alternative ways of working and being funded?

My hon. Friend and I have had many conversations about the importance of the college in her constituency. The simple fact is that residential training colleges up and down the country provide important specialist support for disabled people to get into employment. I have already given a clear undertaking that we are going to provide funding for those residential training colleges through to the end of the 2012-13 academic year. Indeed, my officials are already meeting the heads of those colleges to ensure that we have a clear plan for retaining that expertise in the new funding environment.

No one will be surprised to hear that the workers in my local factory were devastated by today’s news. They feel particularly angry because for the past two years, the management and the work force have been working together to try to develop a social enterprise that would include not only the Remploy workers but other voluntary organisations around the city. They have gone a long way down the road to achieving that, but there is now huge uncertainty. My reading of the literature that has been produced today is that the factories are to be closed, which means that—

Order. I will say it loudly this time: we want short questions, please, not speeches. Mr Doran, a question—now!

I would love to make a speech, but I am trying to avoid one. The future of the factory is crucial. There is a possibility of saving jobs in Aberdeen, so will the Minister confirm what will happen to the factories?

We are going into a 90-day consultation on phase 1 factories. If individuals want to come forward because they feel that there are opportunities to reduce the level of redundancies, Remploy would obviously be pleased to look at them.

What conversations is my hon. Friend having with employers about increasing employment opportunities for disabled people?

I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend that we have had extensive conversations with the Employers Forum on Disabilities, which is going to work closely with us on the employment support package that we are putting together for the individuals affected, particularly making sure that, through its first shot scheme, disabled people can get those interviews and get in front of employers, which can be so important in securing jobs.

Nobody would deny that mainstream employment is important for people with disabilities, but some people who are employed in Remploy factories are there because they cannot secure mainstream employment. Will the Minister give the House a commitment today that at the end of the 18-month period, she will produce a report showing the individual destinations of people in employment and, if she proceeds with this closure programme, what percentage of them have jobs?

Again, the right hon. Gentleman will have heard me say that unlike the previous Government, we will track the destinations of the people affected today. I do not doubt his very real and important concern, but disabled people really have the capability of working in mainstream employment, and I think it is our responsibility to make sure that we give them the skills and support to be able to do that.

Given that many of these employees will enjoy a lot of camaraderie and community, as well as jobs, will my hon. Friend confirm that the mentoring and support offered will be beyond what is currently offered to them? Will she also confirm that local charities and local organisations will work closely with these employees so that they can be involved in the community?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the community aspect of Remploy is important. It is something that all who are involved with Remploy understand. That is why I have allocated £1.5 million to a community budget to make sure that the broader benefits of Remploy are taken into account so that that support is there not just for employees, but for their families and the broader community, too.

Is it not shameful that the workers in the Remploy factory in Wishaw did not even know that they were losing their jobs until I phoned the factory this afternoon? In Motherwell and Wishaw, there are 21 people going for every single job application, so what will happen to those Remploy people who do not get a job in the next 18 months?

Communication is vital. The hon. Gentleman has to understand that this is part of a 12-month process. We have been in consultation, and 1,400 people contributed to it. It is well known that we have been in this process. Today, Remploy management took a great deal of time to make sure that that communication process continued. I challenge him to look at some of the facts and figures for his own region—to look, for example, at the number of disabled people who are getting into employment. That is something that we believe should be available for Remploy employees as well.

Everyone in the House will empathise with the people who are at risk of losing their jobs tonight; there is no question about that. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the support these people will receive will help a greater number of people to get into jobs and that the money will be used effectively? Does she share my surprise that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne), who just five hours ago expressed his concern that the Minister should be here tonight, is not here tonight?

Obviously, it is important for Members to take part in this debate. I can reassure my hon. Friend that as a result of the proposals that we have announced today, some 8,000 more disabled people will be helped into employment. This is not just about the £320 million that the Government have already announced that they have protected to support this important group of people; it is about an extra £15 million on top of that, and I think that our actions speak very loudly.

I think that the 54 disabled people who are losing the jobs at Remploy in Chesterfield will see through the Minister’s warm words and rhetoric. The fact is that more disabled people than able-bodied people are unemployed generally: it is a desperately difficult jobs market out there anyway. The Minister has already dodged this question twice. Will she commit herself to coming back to the House in six months and telling us where those who have lost their jobs at Remploy have gone, so that we can establish whether her warm words mean anything to the 54 people in my constituency who are losing their jobs?

I do not doubt the hon. Gentleman’s genuine concern for his constituents, but I do not think that I have dodged that question. I have made it clear that we will monitor the progress made by disabled people, and I am always happy to come to the House and talk about the progress that the Government are making.

When the Ystradgynlais Remploy factory in my constituency was closed under the last Labour Government, a number of my constituents transferred to Baglan, which I think today’s written statement refers to as Neath. It is included in the stage 2 list as being potentially viable. Will the Minister ensure that the Remploy board is given all the encouragement and resources that are needed to ensure that that viability continues?

We certainly want to help the Neath factory to realise what is clearly its potential. I hope that we can work with my hon. Friend as well, and that his support will ensure that the factory is the success that he feels that it can be in the future.

Will the Minister tell us what criteria will be used to determine whether factories on the stage 2 list, such as the one in my constituency, will remain open, and against what time scale they will be judged? Will she come back to the House at the end of that time and tell us how many of them will remain open?

The stage 2 factories are factories that we believe, on the basis of independent reports, have the opportunity and potential to be financially viable. What we need now is an opportunity to talk to people who may be interested in taking them over. We are committed to what is in recommended in Liz Sayce’s report, which is the freeing of these factories from Government control, and we need to ensure that we have the right support and plans to be able to do that.

Does my hon. Friend agree that as a result of this tough and difficult decision it will be possible to help thousands more disabled people who do not currently live near a Remploy factory, such as those in my constituency?

My hon. Friend speaks for the 7 million disabled people of working age in this country who do not have the opportunity to work at Remploy. We must use the £320 million of protected money, and the extra £15 million that is going into Access to Work, to ensure that many more of those individuals who are unable to be employed at the moment have the opportunity to be employed, and to lead independent lives as a result.

I am particularly disappointed by the timing of today’s announcement. It stretches credulity that at a time of rising unemployment and fierce competition for every single job, the Government are planning to take supported jobs away from people who are already very disadvantaged in the labour market. What net financial savings does the Minister expect to arise from this policy? Once the redundancy bill, the benefits bill and the personalised support have been delivered, will creating all this uncertainty actually save any money?

This is not a savings measure. I know that the hon. Lady is very concerned about this matter on behalf of those of her constituents who work in Remploy factories, but I assure her that we are trying to ensure that the money is used more effectively, so more of her constituents can get the support they need. It simply cannot be right for us to continue to let the factories lose £68 million a year—and cumulatively more than £200 million over the modernisation plan period—when we could be using that money more effectively to support more disabled people into employment.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but I am concerned about the way this difficult decision will be reported. Will she make it clear that the decision has not been taken in order to cut public expenditure, and that instead more money will be going towards enabling disabled people to live and work independently, free of prejudice, with support, so they can do what they want to do in their lives?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I put the following simple fact to the House: as a result of what we are announcing today, 8,000 more disabled people throughout the country will have the opportunity to move into work, compared with 1,500 people who work in Remploy factories and who will be affected. In these difficult economic times, we have to take tough decisions, but this is a decision that is about much more than that; it is about the sort of country we are—a country that wants to have disabled people included at the heart of our communities instead of in segregated factories.

I would agree with the Minister’s logic if we were in a period of full employment across the country or in regions such as the north-east of England, but the north-east is bearing 10% of the total cuts announced today. Sadly, I am convinced that very few, if any, of the people affected in my constituency and in the north-east in general will find other employment easily. What support will be given to the people of the north-east, so that they can get another job in the north-east?

I do not doubt the hon. Gentleman’s sincerity, but he needs to look at the facts. Some 20,000 disabled people were helped into employment last year, and that was achieved not in easy economic times, but in the difficult economic times we inherited from Labour. We made sure that 20,000 disabled people were able to get into employment. I can reassure him that throughout the country we are very effectively getting disabled people into employment, and that the £8 million we have put aside for employment support will help ensure that his constituents get the sort of support that I know he would want them to get.

The acoustics in the Chamber are slightly awkward tonight, so I did not quite hear the Minister’s answer about how many Remploy factories were closed by the last Labour Government. I would therefore appreciate it if she would repeat it. We in the Public Accounts Committee found out today that 442,700 people started apprenticeships in the last year. Can she assure us that there is cross-departmental working to ensure that such opportunities are available to all people?

I am very happy to be able to give that assurance to my hon. Friend. I apologise if Members did not catch the answer to which he refers: under the previous Administration, 68 factories closed—[Interruption.] I apologise; 28 factories closed under the previous Administration. [Interruption.]

Order. If the House were a little quieter, we would all be able to hear exactly what is being said. May I also ask the Minister to give briefer answers and, once again, ask Members to ask a single, brief question?

Twenty-eight factories were closed under the previous Administration, and some 1,600 people were affected.

My constituents who work at Remploy in Wishaw in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr Roy) have been coming to me for the last year to express their fear that what has been announced this evening would happen. After having been sacked so unceremoniously today, without an earlier statement or even a phone call, I do not think they will agree with the Minister that they have been set free. If she has made this announcement from the goodness of her heart and to encourage more disabled people into mainstream employment, why is she not ensuring that each Remploy employee has a new job before she lays them off?

There was a statement earlier and I just want to make sure that the hon. Lady is clear that what Remploy announced today is that it will be consulting on the future of the people who will be affected by the announcements. She used the word “sacked”, but that is not correct. I can absolutely assure her that the support that will be in place will be the support she would expect to be there for her constituents to make sure that every one of them has the support to enable them to get back into employment.

Having anticipated this event I took the opportunity to discuss with the Remploy factory in Burnley the future of the site. Will the Minister confirm what will happen to the assets of that site? Will she be prepared to hand them over to the work force so that they can start up their own business? They tell me that without the present astronomical overhead costs from central control and Government interference, they will be very successful, but they need assurances that they can take it on as an individual business. Will they be able to take on the company’s assets?

I assure my hon. Friend that I would very much like to work with him on that and look at the proposal he mentions. We have spoken at length about this and I am sure that, working with officials, we can make sure that the details are available to anyone who has a firm proposal to put forward.

I welcome the Minister to the Chamber this evening, but hon. Members will note that a Labour Minister in the Welsh Assembly saw fit to answer questions on this, with an oral statement, seven hours ago. In it he said:

“I regret that repeated requests by Welsh ministers for a constructive dialogue on Remploy factories in Wales have not been taken up by the UK Government.”

Will the Minister accede to the immediate request of the Welsh Assembly Government for discussions about the Remploy assets so that they can work with unions, social enterprises and others to make sure that we have viable ongoing businesses in all those premises?

Officials have already met officials in the Wales Office and I am meeting with Ministers next week.

The Leeds Remploy office placed 307 people in work last year—a record to be applauded. I also applaud these efforts to end workplace segregation. Will my hon. Friend focus on monitoring the personalised support schemes to ensure that more people are helped into work in future and are not left behind as has happened in the past?

I can absolutely give that undertaking to my hon. Friend. Again, I note that 8,000 more disabled people will be able to be supported into work as a result of today’s announcements.

What will be the total cost of shutting down these Remploy factories, including the costs of redundancy and settling with suppliers?

This is a protected budget and we will make sure that the costs involved will be covered within the budgets that are available and that as a result of the measures we are taking today more disabled people will be helped into employment over this spending review period. Any costs associated with the changes we have announced today will be included within existing plans.

Will my hon. Friend take every opportunity, particularly tonight and tomorrow, to stress in the media that the funding will go to the disabled individual rather than to the institution, so that the voices we hear on this are not just those of the unions?

Many people listening to the debate will be somewhat surprised that in this day and age we still have this approach to supporting disabled people in this country. I know there is union involvement in the factories and perhaps that had some bearing on the problems that the previous Administration had in taking tough decisions on this issue. I assure my hon. Friend that we will take the right decisions for disabled people because we are listening to their aspirations for the future, not the unions.

Earlier, the Minister indicated that stage 2 factories such as the one in Clydebank in my constituency can expect no more support than stage 1 factories in finding a way forward to a sustainable future. Will she reconsider that position and put a taskforce into each of the stage 2 factories at least?

The important point I made earlier to the hon. Lady about her factory is that we believe that the phase 2 factories have the opportunity to become viable and we shall be looking at ways to make that happen. I hope that, perhaps working with her, we can identify somebody who is able to take on that challenge at local level.

Today’s announcement is a crushing blow to the staff at Wythenshawe Remploy, who have battled against closure for four and a half years. They have made the factory more efficient and have boosted sales, yet their reward is that they are classed as a stage 1 factory, which means that it will close. Can I have an assurance from the Minister that if in the 90-day consultation period a credible proposal is made to keep that factory open—perhaps as a social enterprise—it will be given sympathetic consideration and adequate support?

The heartless, callous decision announced today casts hundreds of hard-working disabled people on to the scrap heap, probably for a lifetime. The Minister continues to state that they will get jobs elsewhere, but in my constituency, 55.5 people are after every jobcentre vacancy. Can the Minister tell me where they will get employment?

The hon. Gentleman really should have been listening to what I was talking about. Under the Labour Administration, 28 factories were closed in very difficult circumstances. What we are doing differently is making sure that the proper support is put in place, which it probably was not in the case of factories closed under Labour. We want to make sure that disabled people who are affected by the plans today have that support, and I hope I can call on the hon. Gentleman’s support to make sure that his constituents are aware of it.

In 2007, the Conservatives said they would do all they could to support Remploy when they were in government. Does the Minister agree that the shambolic and shameful way the statement has been made today epitomises the Government’s cavalier and out-of-touch attitude to vulnerable people, and represents a broken promise to the dozens of disabled people in Edinburgh who are losing their jobs tonight?

I am sorry; the hon. Gentleman needs to listen to what I am saying here. What we have done as a Government is to follow the Labour modernisation plan. We have followed it for the last two years and continued to make sure that in these tough economic times £555 million continued to be available. What we are not doing is wasting money; we are making sure that the money we have is going further.

I notice that the excellent Coventry plant is down for reconsideration. I also notice that the Minister certainly has not consulted me, or any of the other Coventry MPs. Can we have an undertaking that she will consult the Coventry MPs? More important, to help her with her reconsideration we are prepared to give her a tour of that very successful factory, which does work for Jaguar Land Rover and other automobile industries. Is the Minister planning to privatise that plant?

I am always happy to meet the hon. Gentleman. I think I have visited the factory in Coventry. We had a consultation on the process, with many contributions from hon. Members, but obviously I shall be happy to meet Coventry Members at any point in time.

I have visited the Remploy plant in my constituency so often that I am practically on first-name terms with most of the work force. They are fantastic—a mix of able-bodied and disabled people—and I cannot help but fear that they would be offended by the continuous references to a segregated workplace. Thankfully, Dundee is not earmarked for closure, but what assurances can the Minister give the work force in Dundee that they have a future there?

The assurance I can give the hon. Gentleman and the work force in Dundee is that whether their factory is phase 1 or phase 2, they will get the support they need, either to work in mainstream employment through our £8 million support fund, or to look for alternative viable ways of taking the factory forward outside Government control. The hon. Gentleman will share with me the desire to make sure that more of his disabled constituents can get work, which is why I hope he can support our plans today.

I must say I am amazed that I am standing here in the 21st century discussing state-subsidised segregated jobs. Can the Minister confirm that the Government spend more than £60 million a year and that the operating loss on the factories was £68.3 million last year? Disabled people in my Bracknell constituency would welcome funding from the Government to support them to get into profitable jobs in the future, because they do not have the opportunity to be employed in a state-subsidised factory.

My hon. Friend is right. The cumulative figure for the factory losses is well in excess of £200 million. That is important money, which could have been used more effectively to support more disabled people throughout the country into work.

Will the Minister apologise to the deaf employees at the Springburn Remploy factory in my constituency, who were denied the dignity of a signer to tell them this afternoon that their jobs were gone? Does the Minister accept that with just 45% of disabled people employed—some 30% less than the non-disabled population—with a flatlining economy, with 20 people in my constituency chasing every job that is available, the question is: where will the jobs come from?

I will look into the point that the hon. Gentleman raises about the Springburn factory. I would absolutely apologise to factory workers if there was not a signer available. I will look into that in detail. I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider the number of disabled people in his constituency who have been supported into mainstream employment through our employment services programmes and many others. We know that disabled people want to be able to live independent lives, and through the changes that we are talking about today we can support many, many more to do that.

Croespenmaen in my constituency has worked hard to make its business a success. It has shown faith in Remploy. It is a pity that the Government could not show the same faith in it. Today’s announcement is nothing short of a kick in the teeth. Does the Minister believe that 90 days is long enough for these people to plan their future or try to save their factory?

I know the hon. Gentleman feels very strongly about this. We are absolutely showing faith in disabled people in what we are doing today. The plans and proposals that we have put forward have the full endorsement and backing of many disabled people throughout the country, and the work that has been done by Liz Sayce is an important contribution to the way we can help improve the lives of disabled people in Britain today.

Bearing in mind the Minister’s statement in respect of residential training colleges, she is aware of Portland training college, whose patron is Her Majesty the Queen in this, the diamond jubilee year. Will the Minister accept an invitation to visit that college to meet directors, staff and, of course, students to talk about their future?

As the hon. Gentleman will have heard in my comments earlier, I understand the value of residential training colleges and I will be delighted to accept his invitation.

Can the Minister tell the House when she envisages that the factories will start closing? I know that there will be a great deal of distress about this in north-east Wales. We do not see it as a state-subsidised industry. We see it as to do with disabled people in a very challenging economic situation.

I understand the hon. Lady’s commitment to supporting disabled people in her constituency. There is a 90-day consultation period, so that will be completed and then we will talk to disabled employees about their futures. I hope we can continue to keep her up to date on that progress.

The Minister gave a shambolic reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), in much the same way as she addressed Remploy workers and the House. What are the redundancy costs calculated to be, and what is the impact on businesses which are customers or suppliers?

It is very difficult to give facts and figures when we are in consultation. That will depend on the outcome of the consultation. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be able to be furnished with those figures when the consultation is complete.

Leaving aside the utterly shabby way in which the Minister tried to sneak out the announcement today—[Interruption.] Utterly shabby. Does she not realise that one of the reasons that there are Remploy factories in places such as the Rhondda and in Cynon Valley is that we already have some of the highest levels of unemployment and the highest levels of disability? Will she guarantee that not a single person in the Aberdare factory or in Porth will be forced into redundancy?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and hope that he received my letter, which clarified that I enjoyed my discussions with the Porth factory and very much understand his support for them. I gently remind him that the factory supports 74 disabled people. He needs to ensure that he is also thinking about the 12,400 disabled people in his constituency—[Interruption.] The Porth factory lost around £200,000 last year. We believe that we need to challenge ourselves on how we can use that money more effectively. Last year in Wales employment service—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr Bryant, you asked a question. Please listen to the answer and stop shouting across the Chamber at the Minister.

I was simply going to point out that 2,000 disabled people got very good jobs in Wales last year. The hon. Gentleman really needs to focus on the fact that there are employment opportunities there, but we need to ensure that his constituents and those of other hon. Members have the skills and support to be able to take those jobs up.

Order. I ask Members to leave the Chamber quietly and save their congratulations for outside, Mr Lloyd, so that we can proceed.