STAFF at Edinburgh's BlindCraft factory have been told it will close at the end of the month - but council chiefs say there is still a chance it could then reopen under new management.
City economic development leader Tom Buchanan said he had received separate approaches from two business people interested in taking over the enterprise and had also been urged by the Scottish Government to speak to those behind the rescue of a similar workshop in Aberdeen.
BlindCraft, which has 53 workers, has provided sheltered employment for blind and disabled people for the past 216 years. But Councillor Buchanan said the council could not afford to continue subsidising the factory at the current level of 1 million a year and he was disappointed the proposal for moving to a three-day week, which would have saved 650,000, had been rejected by the workforce.
He said: "The course of action now is we go to closure because we have been told by parties interested in looking at BlindCraft they were not prepared to take on staff liabilities, such as continuing pension contributions and honouring existing terms and conditions.
"We have to see how we can get the people back into employment or get someone to come in and run BlindCraft as a stand-alone entity. I have had one prominent Edinburgh businessman approach us directly; Jim Mather, the Enterprise Minister, has asked me to approach the Glencraft people; and one other business person expressed an interest some months ago."
Edinburgh Central Labour MSP Sarah Boyack yesterday appealed to Alex Salmond to intervene at the eleventh hour to save BlindCraft, as he had with Glencraft.
The First Minister praised the Glencraft rescue as "an excellent agreement between the council, the government and the private sector". He said he would be pleased to "do everything we can" to help the BlindCraft workers, but insisted the government could not assume the council's responsibilities.
Ms Boyack said she welcomed any prospect for keeping BlindCraft open, but warned time was running out. She added that she was disappointed by Mr Salmond's response. "We were looking for something more than the council going to talk to Glencraft. We were hoping he would pull people together as he did in their case."
John Paul McHugh of the Community union, which represents the majority of BlindCraft workers, said he was due to meet Cllr Buchanan on Monday and was ready for "pragmatic dialogue".
But he said: "Any solution must be sustainable and must be meaningful employment."
Mr McHugh said employees had been told the factory was closing following the end of the official 30-day consultation period. He said: "They told all the employees that was it, they were formally acknowledging the closure of the consultation period and the redundancies would start on March 31."