Blackpool Jobs Axe Threat ‘Turns Lives Upside Down’

BLACKPOOL Council has been accused of “turning the lives of vulnerable people upside down” by threatening them with redundancy.

Eleven people on the Workstep scheme – which helps disabled people into work – have contracts with the authority, although they are placed with private employers.

The council reviewed the scheme and told the workers they would no longer have contracts with the council and would have to try to get a contract direct with their employer.

If their employer refused, then they could end up redundant.

Council bosses said they made the move ahead of a Government review of the scheme.

But Gordon Marsden, MP for Blackpool South, said this review was not due until next year. The council had jumped the gun and the scheme may have been extended.

Mr Marsden criticised the council in the House of Commons, for its “insensitive mishandling” of Workstep.

The people involved – two of who had been in their jobs for 20 years – suffered five months of “pressure, anxiety and uncertainty”, the MP said.

Under the Workstep scheme, the Government gives the council £400 a month for each person taking part. The council pays half of the person’s wages and this is matched by the employer they are placed with.

Historically, Blackpool Council topped this up with another 10 per cent.

According to Mr Marsden 11 of the 30 on Blackpool’s scheme were told it was not “financially viable” for the council to continue.

One of the workers, who did not want to be named, said: “The wording made me feel like I was a bag of rubbish waiting for the binmen to collect. I thought it was very sharp and impersonal.”

Mr Marsden, who has been backed by Blackpool North and Fleetwood MP Joan Humble, said seven of the 11 workers’ contracts had now been transferred to employers, but the others still did not know what would happen.

Steve Pullan, executive director for adult social services, admitted the council’s communication could have been “handled better”.

He apologised to the workers involved and said: “What was said in Parliament significantly understates the considerable efforts made to satisfactorily place the vast majority of people on the Workstep programme into permanent, sustainable employment.

“The one or two remaining people who have not yet had their details finalised have already been given an absolute promise by Blackpool Council that we will continue to support them up to autumn 2009 when the Government arrangement changes. Indeed nothing has to change until then unless its to their benefit.

“With Government funding beyond 2009 uncertain we must plan for the long-term secure employment of people on the programme.”