Remploy employment services are to be privatised, Employment Minister Esther McVey MP has announced today (22 July 2014).

Remploy once ran factories dedicated to employing thousands of disabled people, but sold the remainder of its factories in 2013 following a charity-led review.  The Sayce review, ‘Getting in, staying in getting on (pdf)’, recommended that the closure of Remploy factories would help boost the number of disabled people in mainstream employment, and also suggested that the factories could be transformed into “social enterprises”. Some ex-Remploy workers are still struggling to find a job more than a year later.

The publicly funded disability employment specialists have advised and supported around 100,000 disabled people to find work or learn new skills since 2010.

Remploy currently help deliver the government’s Work Choice programme and any future owner or investor ‘will need to demonstrate the commitment, capacity and capability to continue the delivery of Work Choice and continue to grow the business in line with Remploy’s mission’, say the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

In a written ministerial statement, Employment Minister Esther McVey MP said:

“The Department will be launching a commercial process for Remploy Employment Services, a leading national provider of disability employment services. This will give the company the opportunity for a partner or investor to help develop it to its full potential and help more disabled people get into work.

“Over the last few years Remploy Employment Services has gone from strength to strength in the support it provides disabled people to find and remain in work. It is one of the Department’s key providers of specialist support for disabled and disadvantaged people. By March 2015, it is estimated that Remploy Employment Services will have supported over 100,000 disabled and disadvantaged people into work since 2010.

“The Remploy Board has expressed their desire for Remploy Employment Services to be given the opportunity to take on significant investment and the Department has been working with them to identify if there is opportunity to do this in line with the Sayce Review recommendations. We both agree that there is now an excellent opportunity for an investor or partner to acquire a significant stake in Remploy Employment Services and invest in its continued growth and development. This opportunity will provide the freedom and flexibility for the business to continue to grow and expand its mission by helping even more disabled people find sustainable employment.

“The commercial process for Remploy Employment Services will be launched in the next week through the normal commercial channels and further details will be available then.

“This process is seeking a partner or investor for Remploy Employment Services who will hold a significant stake in the business. We envisage that a Joint Venture will be created and employees will hold an interest in the operation of the company.

“This could be through some shareholding held on the employees’ behalf in an employee benefit trust. However the specific structure and governance arrangement linked to the creation of a company will be subject to the negotiation undertaken as part of this process and the Department is interested in any proposals which will deliver the key objectives of this transaction.”

Beth Carruthers, Chief Executive of Remploy said:

“I am delighted by the minister’s announcement today. The decision creates a fantastic opportunity for Remploy to grow and flourish enabling even more disabled people to transform their lives through work.”

Unions appeared to welcomed the move. Mick Wilde, lead staff representative at the GMB Union said:

“As lead GMB representative for staff employed by Remploy, with full support of national and regional officials and myself, we fully support the exit of Remploy from government control, providing it is done in full consultation and with continued transparency.”

Kevin Hepworth of Unite Union added: “We are happy with the direction Remploy hopes to take when it exits government ownership. Unite looks forward to strengthening its partnership that already exists with the company and this will protect the employees and the ethos of the company in the future.”

However, the disability charity Scope urged caution. “We know that many disabled people want to work, but there is a long way to go to make this a reality”, Chief Executive Richard Hawkes said. Mr Hawkes said todays announcement “represents a good opportunity for Remploy”, adding that the government must “make sure more disabled people get access to expert, tailored support to find employment” and “create more jobs”.

“We also need to look into how we can make work places more flexible, welcoming environments where disabled people flourish rather than struggle”, he concluded.