A FACTORY that provides employment to disabled people is set to close in just two months.
Dorset Enterprises, in Elliott Road, Bournemouth, is likely to close at the end of March after Bournemouth council decided it could no longer financially support the loss-making operation.
Efforts to find a partner organisation to take over the operation of the factory have been unsuccessful, although the council has promised to continue trying to find a new operator after the site closes.
It has also pledged to try and redeploy staff where possible.
But the news is a massive blow to the site’s 23 workers, 19 of whom have a disability.
Yesterday, upset workers said they were “gutted” at the prospect of being made redundant in just 10 weeks’ time.
Factory manager Paul White, who has worked there for 16 years, said staff would be looking to table their own proposal to try and salvage some of the business but said the council needed to be “realistic” and support them in their bid.
“We will do our best to save at least some of it, if we possibly can,” he said.
“But we would be relying on the goodwill of the council when it comes to negotiations.”
Although best known for making deckchairs, Dorset Enterprises also offers free work experience and training to local pupils, including many from special schools.
A report going to cabinet members next Wednesday says the company has averaged losses of almost £471,000 per year over the last three years.
It adds there is no reasonable expectation the financial position will improve and claims potential new owners have been deterred by the requirement to keep staff on existing terms and conditions.
Kinson South Cllr Ben Grower, leader of the Labour group, said closing Dorset Enterprises was nothing more than a “cost-cutting exercise. They say they’ve been trying to save it but they’ve made very little effort,” he said.
“It’s a matter of saving money and as a consequence people are going to lose their jobs.
“Nobody will come in and use the site to employ disabled people. It’s not set up to make a profit, it’s there to provide a necessary service.”
But Cllr Blair Crawford, the Conservative cabinet member for adult social care, said: “It is regrettable that a viable solution has not been available to keep the Dorset Enterprises factory open but the losses are just too great to keep this facility going in its current form.
“Similar support employment factories across the UK have closed over recent months for the same reasons.
“However, the council remains committed to supporting adults with disabilities to gain or retain paid or voluntary employment which is why we are seeking one or more partner organisations to take on the site and start a new enterprise, or even a range of business opportunities, offering supported employment,” Cllr Crawford added.
Instructor Alan Stratman, who has worked there for 20 years, said: “There is a lot we can do and offer here but we have not been used to our full potential.
“Perhaps the council should have sat down earlier and worked out what direction we should be going in. I feel really let down.
“We have put the effort in and all they have done is just let things dwindle and hope for the best.”
Chargehand Bob Bingham, an employee of 16 years, said: “I’m gutted. It’s going to be difficult for many of the people here to find another job.
“I think we have been poorly managed by the council. We have often wondered why we have not been asked to make things like park benches and internal doors for council houses. We could do that but they are not interested.”
Robert Webster, an employee of 21 years, said: “I can see this place could be turned around but talks with private businesses have collapsed. Now we don’t know what will happen to Dorset Enterprises."
“I had nothing to do before I started work here. I would like to find another job but I don’t know whether I will. It all depends on how much help is available from the council.”