Reprieve for Remploy city factory

Workers at Remploy Norwich yesterday breathed a sigh of relief after learning that the city factory was not part of the company's plans to close 32 sites and merge 11 more across the country.

Workers at Remploy Norwich yesterday breathed a sigh of relief after learning that the city factory was not part of the company's plans to close 32 sites and merge 11 more across the country.

Remploy, which provides jobs for disabled people, said that the Norwich print and packaging business would be developed to improve financial performance and maintain a sustainable enterprise.

But it was not good news for Remploy's Wisbech site, where 14 people work, which will cease contract packing work while retaining existing training operations.

The Norwich factory, which supplies medium volume packaging and printed material, currently employs 71 people, 45 of whom are disabled.

Remploy, which is funded by a government grant, also plans to open a new recruitment office in the area.

Nationally, the scale of closures is worse than unions were expecting and sparked warnings of a strike.

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Glen Holdom, regional organiser for the GMB union, said: “There is measured relief in Norwich but we have to wonder whether this is part of a wider plan and is only a temporary stay.”

He said the union had put together an alternative to the closures for which it had yet to receive acknowledgment.

“I am sceptical about what they mean by developing performance in Norwich, but also the emphasis on mainstream employment, which means stacking shelves or collecting trolleys in supermarket carparks,” he added.

The Boleness Road site in Wisbech was opened in 2002 to support disabled workers from an unsuccessful horticultural operation run by the local college.

Remploy also manages the adjoining Venture House training centre on behalf of the local council.

The contract packing work done at the site generates income of less than a third of the costs.

No disabled employee will be made compulsorily redundant and all those affected will receive help and support to remain in employment for as long as they want to work.

The closure has been met with dismay by Richard Howitt, Euro MP for the East of England, who had campaigned to keep the factory open.

He said last night: “This is a deeply dismal day. We have been campaigning for months with workers and unions in Wisbech to keep this factory open.

“Remploy creates independence for disabled people through work and we must ensure that this continues to happen for these Wisbech workers.

“The reality is that many of these workers will not be able to adjust to a mainstream work place, and they need the choice to remain in the kind of workplace, which not only gives a pay packet, but also the pride, respect, social outlet and independence of being in a working environment.”

Nationally the company currently employs 5,000 disabled staff in 83 factories, manufacturing a variety of goods for companies.

Remploy said 2,270 disabled people and 280 non-disabled workers were affected by the changes.

Alan Hill, Remploy's director of product businesses, said: “Remploy is determined to give disabled people the same job opportunities as non-disabled people.

“Our recruitment and development services will ensure that disabled people are prepared for, and supported in, jobs in mainstream employment.”

A professional counsellor will be available to offer support in Wisbech.

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