Edinburgh’s Blindcraft staff backed by Robin Harper and John Prescott
Parliamentary motion on ‘deplorable’ decision to consider shutting blind workers’ factory
Workers at Edinburgh’s Blindcraft factory got welcome boost today, gaining the support of prominent politicians.
Green MSP Robin Harper has lodged a Parliamentary Motion calling on the Scottish Government to intervene on what he says is "an unjustifiable decision" to consider closing the charity, which was set up in 1793.
Earlier today, former Labour deputy leader John Prescott re-tweeted a link to the local campaign’s GoPetition website, which had 178 signatures at the time of publication.
Campaigner Hannah Lister, 21, who set up a Facebook group for Blindcraft, said she was delighted with the support shown so far.
"It crashed the petition website for a while, but that’s a good sign!"
On Thursday city councillors voted to look at two options to save £700,000. One was to close Blindcraft completely and the other was to change the firm’s focus towards training and "through-flow of employment," meaning 23 of the 70-strong workforce would be "redeployed."
Lib Dem, SNP and Conservative councillors voted for the 30-day consultation period, pointing out that the council has searched for 10 years to find a way to reduce its subsidy to Blindcraft, which is budgeted to be £1.06m over the current financial year.
Mr Harper said the same financial lifeline that was thrown to Aberdeen’s Glencraft factory in January should be given to the Edinburgh firm.
He told Guardian Edinburgh:
"Edinburgh Council’s SNP/LibDem administration must back off Blindcraft right now. This is a 200 year old Edinburgh success story, exactly the kind of social enterprise we’re supposed to be encouraging, and a business with successful contracts with John Lewis and others.
"It would also be the worst time to throw a vulnerable workforce out of their jobs, just as the cuts make will be making it harder than ever for them to find other work.
"If the First Minister can save Glencraft in the North-east, surely he can step in here and stop his colleagues in local government from making such an unjustifiable decision over such a small sum of money."
His motion to Parliament, which can be viewed by clicking here, claims making Blindcraft workers redundant would have "a severe impact" on them and taxpayers.
The motion states:
"That the Parliament deplores the decision by the administration of City of Edinburgh Council to start a period of 90 days’ statutory consultation with staff of BlindCraft about closure of the business; considers that BlindCraft is a valuable and reputable company, established in 1793, which makes quality beds and provides employment opportunities particularly for those who are disabled or have a visual impairment; believes that closure will have a severe impact on its 70 workers, particularly the two-thirds who have a visual impairment, and on the public purse, to support redundant workers; notes that in 2008 the company won a contract with John Lewis to the tune of £2 million and understands that its projected sales for 2010-11 were £1.58 million; welcomes the campaign and petition by workers and supporters to save BlindCraft, and calls on the Scottish Government to intervene to prevent the closure."
Now MSPs have the option to add their support by signing the motion and holding a wider debate in parliament.
When approached for comment on whether first minister Alex Salmond would be intervening, the Scottish Government said it was yet to be officially approached.
A spokesperson said:
"While the Scottish Government have not received any representations or requests from Blindcraft, we stand ready to offer the support of the Partnership Action for Continuing Employment initiative (PACE), which can be made available to employees affected, and any other assistance we may be able to offer."
When requested, support from Skills Development Scotland is offered by local response teams under the PACE support package.
The type of support available can be tailored to meet individual needs and local circumstances. In previous cases it has included Jobcentre Plus Scotland services, one-to-one counselling, information packs, access to high-quality training, seminars on skills such as CV-writing and starting up a business and access to IT facilities.
The City of Edinburgh Council said it had measures in place to support staff during the "period of uncertainty."
A spokesman said:
"In recent years the Blindcraft management and workforce have achieved substantial successes including securing valuable commercial contracts, improving product awareness, developing the workforce and controlling material costs.
"However everyone is aware of the difficult financial decisions facing the Council which has financially supported the organisation by in excess of £1m per annum for many years. Blindcraft’s management has been in extensive dialogue with unions and staff-side representatives to actively identify measures to reduce the level of deficit funding required, currently forecast to have been stabilised at £1million a year.
"We need to find ways of helping the organisation to operate on a firmer financial footing whilst achieving savings of £700,000 in 2011/12. We have been in discussion with trade unions and staff to try and identify measures to make Blindcraft more sustainable and, now need to enter into a statutory consultation period over the recommended options.
"We have also set up a special team involving Human Resources, Supported Employment, Benefits Advice and Social Work to help support staff through this period of uncertainty."