Workers devastated as Edinburgh Council axes BlindCraft

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DISABLED workers were today coming to terms with the "devastating" decision to close their factory permanently in 30 days' time after council leaders said they had no option but to wield the axe.

The decision to close the BlindCraft factory in Craigmillar came at a council meeting that saw the Liberal Democrat/SNP budget, which includes 32 million of cuts, approved on the casting vote of the Lord Provost, after all opposition councillors voted against it.

The move to close BlindCraft, which employs dozens of blind and disabled people among its 53 staff, happened as a result of workers rejecting a rescue deal last week that would have seen them work a three-day week.

City leaders have now formally served the company with 30 days' notice after saying there was no way of making the factory viable without the change to working hours.

Joe Mann, secretary of the National League of the Blind and Disabled, which is part of Community union, said: "The shock and shame of today's decision will reverberate around Scotland. BlindCraft should not come to an end after surviving for over 200 years. As the oldest workshop of its kind in Europe, it stands as a great testament to Scottish industry and disability employment."

Trade union leaders and local residents had earlier fought to block the move.

BlindCraft employee and community representative David Anderson, 44, who suffers from cerebellar ataxia and has worked for the company for nearly 14 years, said: "Being employed in BlindCraft has helped me feed and raise my family. This is something I would struggle to do if I was just on benefits. I am proud that, even though I am disabled, I continue to support my family.

"The effect of BlindCraft closing will be truly devastating for me and my family."

Council leaders were criticised by opposition councillors and union leaders for not doing enough to save the company. But economic development leader Tom Buchanan said he had contacted social enterprise firms such as Forth Sector, as well as a number of local businesses, to see if anyone could help save the company. He also said council chiefs had looked at specialising the company as a "no toxin" bed specialist but a business plan couldn't support the venture.

A 30-day consultation period will give private firms and other groups a last opportunity to rescue the firm, which has been relying on a 1 million-a-year subsidy from the council.

The wider Lib Dem/SNP budget, which the Evening News revealed yesterday, includes massive cuts to schools, reducing wheelie bin collections to fortnightly, closing half of the city's public toilets and charging more to park, was passed despite the unprecedented step of the Conservative and Green opposition groups both supporting Labour's budget.

The administration budget was only passed because of the casting vote of Lord Provost George Grubb, who had been off work ill last week and was at risk of missing the crunch meeting.

Councillor Andrew Burns, leader of the Labour group on the council, said: "It is the first time since the move to multi-member wards and the new electoral system that the casting vote has been required. That's an indictment of how the administration has managed the process."

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