Union leaders today condemned a decision to close the Remploy factory in Norwich as “cruel, callous and calculated”

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The packaging factory in Heigham Street, employs 26 disabled people in its workforce of 39.

But it became the latest victim of a government shake-up, putting at risk 875 jobs across the country, including 682 disabled workers.

However Esther McVey, minister for disabled people, said that talks would now begin to see if a commercial buyer could be found for any of the sites.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “The timing is callous so close to Christmas when ministers had previously said the funding for those sites, due to close or be sold off in 2013, was secure until August and September next year.

“It is a cruel decision, given that of those sacked in the first round of closures, only about 50 have found new jobs in the last three months.

“We call on ministers to stop the closure programme immediately until there is a review of the shambles of selling-off Remploy sites to commercial interests.”

The closure follows a review, which concluded that the business was not commercially viable and did not have a realistic chance of being sold as a going concern.

Chloe Smith, Conservative MP for Norwich North, said: “I have always been keen to see Remploy be viable and I have always stated my support for disabled people being in gainful employment, so I am sad to hear this news about the Norwich Remploy factory and its people.

“However, I fully expect disabled people, and a greater number of disabled people, to be better supported by the government’s new plans.”

And she said she was optimistic that the Remploy operation and its workers could be taken on by another city business, who she said wanted to remain anonymous at this point.

She said: “I have worked hard to talk to a local business about a possible expression of interest, so I am pleased there has been a clear signal over the beginning of the commercial process.

“I am encouraging that business, and any others, to put in an offer that can really help with vibrant industry and employment in Norwich.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “From today, Remploy will invite expressions of interest to take over the running of the remaining factories. Our priority throughout this process is to safeguard jobs, which is why we are offering a wage subsidy of up to £6,400 per disabled employee to encourage interested parties to come forward.

“We have also been clear from the start that we have protected the £320m budget for disability employment services. But we are following the advice of disability expert Liz Sayce, to use the money more effectively to get more disabled people into mainstream jobs - the same as everyone else.

“All disabled employees affected by the changes will be guaranteed tailored support from an £8m package, including a Personal Case Worker, to help with the transition into mainstream employment.”

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