The final three Remploy sheltered factories have today (Friday) been sold, saving the jobs of nearly 180 disabled people, but marking the end of 67 years of manufacturing.
The factories in Coventry, Derby and Birmingham – which provide services to UK automotive and construction machinery manufacturers – have been sold to Arlington Industries Group.
Arlington describes itself as one of the “fastest growing, global supply chain consolidators in aerospace and automotive” and will run the factories under the new name of Rempower.
The sale of the three factories – which will safeguard the jobs of 179 disabled people, and 216 employees in all – marks the end of a turbulent five years in Remploy’s history.
By the late 1980s there were 94 sheltered Remploy factories across the UK. But in 2008, when there were still 83 left, the Labour government closed 29 of them.
The coalition then announced in March 2012 that it was withdrawing all subsidies and that the remaining 54 factory-based businesses would be sold or closed.
The coalition claimed it was closing the factories because it wanted to support disabled people into mainstream jobs, and was necessary because a large chunk of the budget for employment support for disabled people was “going into failing factories”.
But unions and anti-cuts activists were furious – as many campaigners had been at the Labour closures – and said that disabled workers from the factories were being “thrown on the scrap heap”, while the sheltered employment offered by Remploy was far better than a life of unemployment.
In all, 48 of the final 54 factories were closed, and just six were sold. Of the 2,390 disabled employees in March 2012, 390 have now been transferred to new employers, with nearly 2,000 made redundant.
Seven new businesses have also started in former Remploy factories: in Swansea, Bolton, Oldham, Aberdeen, Haringey, Wrexham and Wigan, with about 90 jobs created.
A Remploy spokeswoman said the sale of the three automotive factories was “kind of an end of an era”, and “concludes the factory side of Remploy’s history”.
Gareth Davies, president of The National League of the Blind and Disabled, said he was “dismayed” to see the final factories sold, while the closure programme had been “a disgrace”.
He said: “It’s OK talking about inclusivity, but they don’t have their Sunday dinners in these places.
“The dignity of a wage and the right to belong – that is an essential part of life. If the only way you can get it is by supported employment, that is far better than nothing. What they are saying to many people is: ‘You are on benefits for the rest of your life.’”
He said he would like to see new supported workplaces replace the Remploy factories, although probably in the service sector rather than manufacturing.
Jerry Nelson, national secretary of the GMB union, said: “Our members are very relieved that the sale is now complete.
“We are now looking forward to forming a strong working relationship with Rempower, as we share and fully support their vision for the future of these factories.
“We recognise Rempower’s commitment to expand its operations by opening more opportunities for the disabled and disadvantaged young people in society, and to get them back into work.
“This is quite frankly unique in the current economic climate, and is extremely welcome and applauded by GMB.”
David Roberts, chair of Arlington Industries, said: “The acquisition of Remploy Automotive is an excellent addition to our global business.
“We see it as a unique business, representing the very best in corporate social responsibility and advanced manufacturing and assembly.”
Over the years, Remploy factories produced everything from furniture to knitwear, and vibrators to choc ices, although they never made a profit.
The sale of the three factories will not mean the end of Remploy, which still runs an employment services division, which has found more than 50,000 jobs in mainstream employment for disabled and disadvantaged people in the last four years.
Remploy Employment Services has been guaranteed about £27 million government funding until the end of 2014-15, but the coalition has still to decide on its future ownership.