Nottinghamshire County Council confirms closer of Rainworth disabled jobs site

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NOTTINGHAMSHIRE County Council has confirmed it intends to close its Rainworth furniture factory employing disabled people.

The authority is today expected to publicly announce it is formally recommending Sherwood Industries be shut down.

Dozens of people with varying levels of disability will be affected if the controversial proposal then clears its final hurdle at a full council meeting on 23rd February.

Councillors say the authority is ‘confident’ it can offer alternative jobs to all the people working there, but can give no guarantees.

The council first floated the closure of the centre last year as part of an overhaul of the way it provides supported employment for people with disabilities.

Coun Kevin Rostance, cabinet member for adult social care and health, said recommending the closure was an ‘extremely difficult decision’.

“It’s not something we’ve taken light of and we’ve been involved in it for the past 18 months,” he said.

“We’ve had four reviews carried out and involved a consultancy agency to see whether we can make Sherwood Industries viable and in a nutshell they said we needed to increase sales yet also decrease the staffing levels.”

More than 700 people had already signed a petition against the idea and Unison started a campaign to keep it open. Disabled groups also strongly opposed the plan.

Unison has previously accused the council of running a ‘sham consultation’ on the plans and in November called for a public debate on the issue.

The council subsidises the firm and says it cost it more than £830,000 to run in the last financial year.

The annual amount the council pays to subsidise it has also increased by £500,000 since 2001, the authority added.

Of the 43 people in total working at the site, off Southwell Road West, 29 have varying degrees of disability.

Options include finding them other jobs within the council, including at other council-supported businesses.

Coun Stuart Wallace, deputy cabinet member for adult social care and health, said the downturn in the economy had hit Sherwood Industries hard.

The council has been buying less furniture from the company itself due to its own recent cost cutting measures, he added.

“We can’t sustain it every year - if we have to find that level of subsidy the cost will have to come from somewhere else in the budget,” he said.

The authority said since 2001 there had been ‘substantial activity’ to drive new business which proved unsuccessful.

In around 2006 a marketing officer left but was not replaced, the council instead paying an external consultancy.

Service director Caroline Baria said this move was taken in light of previous reviews indicating the firm needed to reduce staffing levels.

Coun Rostance added if the decision to close was confirmed funding would remain for workers still needing a level of one-to-one support and the authority would strive to ensure all employees were offered new positions.

As part of the plans the council’s satellite post of the County Horticulture and Work Training Service at Sherwood Pines would also close, with the six people affected offered places elsewhere in the county.