BlindCraft to meet Ewing day before factory closure

A DELEGATION from BlindCraft is to meet Enterprise Minister Fergus Ewing tomorrow, the day before the factory closes for good.

Employees at the workshop, which has provided sheltered employment for blind and disabled workers for more than 200 years, are being made redundant following the city council's decision to shut the Craigmillar bed-making operation as part of its cash cutbacks.

The workers have been campaigning for First Minister Alex Salmond to step in with the same kind of help he arranged for a similar workshop in Aberdeen. Ministers admitted last week that Glencraft (Aberdeen) Ltd had received a total funding package of 528,695.

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Today a four-strong delegation from the Community union, which represents most of the BlindCraft workforce, was meeting Mr Ewing for talks at the Scottish Parliament.

Fraser Queen, Community branch secretary, said: "We're hoping for a productive meeting. We requested a meeting with Alex Salmond, he passed us on to Fergus Ewing so we are going to go in and listen and see what comes out of it and what's the way forward."

Mr Queen said the workforce accepted the factory as it has operated would close on Friday.

"This is about the wider picture and the need for some sort of long-term employment for disabled people, whether it's BlindCraft or something else."

The closure is calculated to save 700,000 a year. However, campaigners pointed out many of the disabled workers will have little chance of finding other jobs and now face a life on benefits despite the fact that they want to work.

The factory was originally earmarked for closure last year, but after a campaign, backed by the Evening News, council chiefs agreed to a union proposal for a three-day week until the workshop's long-term future could be secured. However, staff voted against the three-day week and councillors agreed in February that the closure would go ahead.

Economic development convener Councillor Tom Buchanan has spoken of interest from other businesses in taking over the enterprise, but only once it has shut down, so the new owners are not bound by current agreements on pay and conditions.

The union said there was no guarantee of such interest translating into jobs.

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The council said most staff had accepted voluntary redundancy, some had got jobs elsewhere and seven had been redeployed within the council. Thirteen were left facing compulsory redundancy, but efforts were continuing to help them.

Cllr Buchanan said: "I have kept in regular contact with the Scottish Government on all issues relating to BlindCraft and only yesterday held a meeting with the Minister for Enterprise."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "We understand that these are very difficult circumstances for BlindCraft employees and ministers and officials want to discuss the further support available should the council feel this is required."