THE future of a factory which provides subsidised employment to disabled people is in doubt because the council says it can no longer bail it out.

Dorset Enterprises in Elliott Road, Bournemouth is a supported factory that manufactures deck chairs and other wooden products but has been making yearly losses of around £500k.

It employs 22 people, 18 of whom have disabilities.

But Bournemouth Borough Council says over recent years the business has faced increased competition from overseas manufacturers and has not made a profit since 1989.

Up until now Bournemouth council has funded the £500k a year shortfall – which has equated to a £3.4million cost to taxpayers over the past seven years – but now says this cannot continue.

Workers at Dorset Enterprises are employed under the Work Choice employment programme and the government gives an annual grant of £4,800 per person.

This funding is expected to end this year.

Now Bournemouth Borough Council has invited interest from organisations to take on the running of Dorset Enterprises.

But Councillor Ben Grower, said Dorset Enterprises is “extremely important” for the community.

He said: “It provides a very necessary service and opportunity for those in need.

“The leader of the council has told us that there was going to be no cut to services but this is a cut to services.

“I hope they will find someone to take it over.

“The government and council have got to learn this type of service is not all about profit making and money, it’s about providing a service for the needy.” Tim Branson, service manager for Community Care Services, said: “We are currently considering the future of Dorset Enterprises and are working very closely with the factory manager and staff to keep them fully informed.

“We have received a number of expressions of interest which we will fully evaluate over the next few weeks.

“The initial responses are very encouraging and appear to support the council’s key objective to ensure that a suitable and successful business can continue at the site.

“A decision about the future of Dorset Enterprises will only happen once the Cabinet has received a detailed options appraisal, and this is not expected until the summer in order to keep all options open.”

How it works

Dorset Enterprises factory is part of a tradition of supported employment that started in Dorset after WWI.

The current factory was developed by Dorset County Council in 1986 to produce ladders for the Post Office.

It then moved onto desk chairs and toys but the production of toys stopped due to safety standards requirements and overseas competition.

Management responsibility for the factory sits with the Community Care Services at the council.

The factory offers work placements to youngsters at specialist schools. The factory was acquired with a grant now paid by the Department for Works and Pensions. Disposal of the factory would require payment of the grant.