UNIONS last night attacked plans that could close factories employing 150 disabled workers in the North-East.
Remploy bosses yesterday submitted final proposals to the Government to shut sites at Hartlepool, Jarrow and Stockton – although factories at Ashington and Spennymoor are no longer under threat.
Plants at Gateshead, Newcastle and Sunderland will also stay open under Remploy’s plans for its national network, which were yesterday submitted for approval to Work and Pensions Secretary Peter Hain.
Some 28 factories, employing 1,600 people, could close – which is 15 sites fewer than originally planned because of savings and an assumption of more public procurement orders.
The firm had said it wanted to close or merge 43 of its plants with the loss of 2,500 jobs under plans to spend more money creating work in “mainstream” employment.
GMB general secretary Paul Kenny branded the decision an “absolute disgrace” and accused the company management of “jumping the gun” with the proposals. Regional GMB organiser Val Scott said: “This is a step in the right direction but the unions are disappointed that it doesn’t go far enough in addressing the closures in total.”
She added Remploy had a relevant place in society and that there was no need for any closures, with business alternatives giving meaningful employment put forward for each site.
Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman expressed her delight that the factory at Spennymoor – which employs 73 people – would remain open after a prolonged campaign by workers, trade unions and local MPs. She chaired a cross-party backbench inquiry that recommended that factories such as Spennymoor should stay open to provide fulfilling employment to a skilled and hard-working workforce.
The inquiry also highlighted new business opportunities presented by changes in legislation, allowing companies such as Remploy to work more closely with councils.
Ms Goodman backed plans to use the plant to supply IT recycling and manufacturing rework for councils, regional development agencies and government offices across the region.
“This is wonderful news for everyone who works at the Remploy factory in Spennymoor and vindicates everything we have said about the value and quality of their work.”
Wansbeck MP Denis Murphy welcomed the “great step forward” over the Ashington factory as it was the only Remploy plant in Northumberland, although he was disappointed about other factories closing.
The 63 workers at the plant are set to switch from making wheelchairs to beds under Remploy’s plans, supporting potential growth in the bed manufacturing business based in Newcastle.
But Mr Murphy stressed the fight was not over yet, saying the factory should become a centre of excellence for training as well as manufacturing.
Remploy chief executive Bob Warner said it was delighted to maintain production at both plants but said they would have to show progress in reaching an acceptable loss per disabled employee with voluntary redundancy programmes to be introduced as part of that process.
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