272 Remploy jobs at risk in Wales as seven factories face closure

Seven of Wales' nine Remploy factories have been earmarked for closure with 272 disabled workers' jobs at risk.

Remploy is proposing to close 36 of its 54 factories across the UK, with potential compulsory redundancies of more than 1,700 disabled workers.

UK coalition ministers say "non-viable" Remploy factories should close with the money re-invested into other schemes to help disabled people find work.

The Welsh government said the closures had "disproportionately hit" Wales.

Remploy factories were established 66 years ago as part of the creation of the welfare state.

The sites listed for closure are in Aberdare, Abertillery, Bridgend, Croespenmaen, Merthyr Tydfil, Swansea and Wrexham.

Factories at Porth and Neath will continue to operate.

'Equality and fairness'

The minister for disabled people, Maria Miller, said the Remploy board was proposing to close the sites by the end of the year because they were unlikely to achieve independent financial viability.

She said the £320m budget for disability employment has been protected, adding that the money will be spent more effectively.

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) said around a fifth of that budget was currently spent on Remploy factories, but nearly all of the factories are loss making and last year lost £68.3m.

Ms Miller said: "By spending the money more effectively, we can get thousands more disabled people in work."

She said the emphasis would be on supporting disabled people through services such as Access to Work, "rather than institutions like Remploy, so more disabled people can work in mainstream employment rather than government-funded segregated factories".

"This is about equality and fairness for disabled people," she said.

Speaking on behalf of the Welsh government, Education Minister Leighton Andrews said they were "profoundly disappointed" with the decision.

"This has wide-reaching implications not only for the lives of individuals, but also for families and communities across Wales, he said.

"It is clear that Wales has been disproportionately hit by the closures announced."

He insisted that the UK government should bear the costs of supporting those who faced losing their jobs.

"What I am not going to do today is to commit the Welsh government to picking up the bill that should be the bill of the UK government.

But Mr Andrews added that the Welsh government would examine the options for supporting the threatened factories, including creating social enterprises.

'Attack on vulnerable'

Labour MP Ann Clwyd, whose Cynon Valley constituency includes Aberdare, said: "At a time when jobs are disappearing, it's extremely cruel for the Remploy workers.

"The government say they have assessed the needs of Remploy workers - well, where are the jobs? In my constituency there are six people chasing every vacancy."

Wrexham Labour MP Ian Lucas said he thought the factory in his constituency was viable.

"I will be raising the issue in the House (of Commons) today and want to see the minister today to make clear how wrong I think this decision is," he said.

The GMB union, which represents Remploy workers, condemned the decision as "an attack on the most vulnerable members of our society".

Three Remploy factories in Wales were closed under the previous Labour government in 2007.

A government-commissioned review last year recommended phasing out state support for Remploy in favour of helping disabled people into the general labour market.

Its author, Liz Sayce, chief executive at the disability rights charity Radar, suggested 35,000 more people could be helped into work for the same cost as supporting the 2,300 Remploy employees.

Wrexham council had been planning to make an announcement next week on securing a deal for the town's Remploy factory to provide kitchen units for hundreds of council houses as part of a refurbishment scheme.

Council leader Ron Davies said: "We are uncertain at this moment in time whether or not the contract to provide these kitchens will ultimately make any difference to the situation in Wrexham.

"But we will be making very strong representations to ministers about the implications for Remploy employees and the Wrexham economy in general."

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