Social enterprise director says Norwich Remploy rescue plan was overlooked

James Levy, Julie Gant and Susan Greenwood from the L and G Enterprise bid team at the Norwich Rempl

James Levy, Julie Gant and Susan Greenwood from the L and G Enterprise bid team at the Norwich Remploy factory. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

The director of a social enterprise has said his bid to save a Norwich-based factory that employs workers with disabilities was overlooked during the bidding process to buy the site.

James Levy, a director of L&G Enterprise, said the firm had made a £1 bid to take over the Remploy packaging factory in Raynham Street, which would have secured the future of the 36 employees and claimed the government was instead favouring an alternative bid by developer Persimmon Homes to buy the land and redevelop it for homes and flats.

He added the Persimmon bid would result in the factory being knocked down to make way for the homes and the loss of the 36 jobs at a time when the government was trumpeting the importance of community inclusivity and the Big Society.

Mr Levy said: 'Our bid would have kept 100pc of the Remploy Norwich staff on board as well as provide work and training for youth, the long term unemployed and current and ex offenders.

'We believe that if people want to work, they should be afforded every opportunity to do so. For many of the Remploy employees, coming to work at the Raynham Street facility is their only form of interaction with others.

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'By allowing the facility to close unnecessarily, the government are depriving them of the basic human need to have contact with others.

'How heartbreaking it must be to realise you have something valuable to give to society, but no one is listening. It is disappointing to see the government has seen fit to undo the hard work put in to making the Big Society a functioning reality.'

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He said the L&G bid would have involved taking on the liabilities and assets for the Remploy business and would have saved the government the cost of paying benefits to the redundant employees.

Figures provided by L&G show the Norwich Remploy staff pay £283,464 annually in income tax and National Insurance contributions to the government, while the cost in Jobseeker's Allowance and council tax benefit if they were made redundant would be £163,152.

Ian Carr, a shop steward for the Unite union at Remploy, reflected on the mood among staff at the prospect of being made redundant, especially the 26 disabled employees.

He said: 'It would be basically dire. People are distraught at the moment at the fact that they could be out of work in the near future so obviously if a social enterprise could come out of this, it would be an advantage.'

However, David Felton, a spokesman for Remploy, said: 'The decision to close the Norwich factory, which is part of Remploy's packaging business, was taken after no viable bids were received for the business.

'The bids were assessed by Remploy, KPMG and an independent panel of experts against a range of criteria including future sustainability of the business, continued employment of disabled people and value for money for the taxpayer.

'No decisions have been taken on the future of the factory site and indeed marketing of the site will not begin for several weeks.'

The government plans to close nine 'non-viable' Remploy factories across the country as part of a review of its £320m disability employment budget, which suggested funding the disabled to find mainstream jobs rather than subsidising 'loss-making factories,' of which the Norwich Remploy branch was considered to be one.

The bidding process is being handled by the Department for Work and Pensions, KPMG and Remploy and the factory could close at the start of August.

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