Welsh government extends help for former Remploy staff

image captionSeven of Wales' nine Remploy factories have already closed

A Welsh government scheme to help disabled staff who lost their jobs when Remploy plants closed in Wales is being extended.

Seven of Wales' nine factories were closed by the UK government last year because they were deemed "unviable".

It saw 280 people lose their jobs, of whom 88 have since found work.

An employment support scheme introduced at the time of the closures will now be extended to 2014, funded with up to £2.4m from the Welsh government.

The factories were established 67 years ago as part of the creation of the welfare state.

But the UK's emphasis on getting disabled people into mainstream work saw the decision taken to shut most of the Welsh factories.

Sites at Aberdare, Abertillery, Bridgend, Croespenmaen, Merthyr Tydfil, Swansea and Wrexham have all now closed.

Remploy is also reviewing a number of commercial bids to run the last two factories in Wales, which employ about 140 people.

The sites at Baglan in Neath Porth Talbot, and Porth in Rhondda, are considered to have the potential to be commercially viable, but currently make losses.

Welsh government Communities and Tackling Poverty Minister Huw Lewis said the Employer Support Grant scheme would also be made available to those in the current review.

The Welsh government opposed the plant closures, and a request to devolve the matter to Cardiff Bay was also turned down.

"The decision to close all the Remploy factories in Wales was a huge blow," said Mr Lewis.

"The way it was handled was a mistake and is not going to improve the lives of disabled people. We were in the middle of a global economic recession, so turfing people out of Remploy was the wrong move."

'Best way forward'

Figures obtained by BBC Wales last month showed that 69% of the 280 laid off disabled employees still do not have jobs.

Mr Lewis said extending the government grant scheme would help support workers who "face redundancy and an uncertain future as the UK government continues with their plans".

"We have a clear aim - to provide fulfilling and accessible employment to people of all skills and abilities," he added.

"We remain committed to doing all we can to find suitable employment for as many of the redundant Remploy workers as possible."

"Considering £70m were lost in those factories every year, we've decided to protect the budget and look after all disabled people, as well as those that were in the Remploy factories," she added.

UK government Disability Minister Esther McVey has said that the closures are "the best way forward" to support all 400,000 disabled people in Wales.

She said Remploy factories had "faced a very uncertain future for a long time" and the UK government was looking after people.

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