Poor management has been blamed for uncertainty facing a council-owned double glazing and door maker which employs physically and mentally disabled staff.
The firm, Shelforce, faces an unclear future as it tries to tackle losses of almost £1.5 million this year – but it could have a future as a solar panel maker.
According to a senior city councillor, the company’s over reliance on a £37 million housing department contract, which has now ended, and failure to diversify has placed the business in peril.
However, the council has pledged not to make any of the firm’s physically or mentally disabled staff redundant.
Staff from the Erdington Industrial Park-based firm have gathered 2,000 names on a petition in support of the jobs and demanding the council commit to the employment of vulnerable people.
Unison union official Mark Rose, representing the workers, said: “We are asking for the council to protect the disabled employment at both Shelforce and the Forward 4 Work disabled training scheme.”
Approximately 300 disabled people are supported by both schemes.
Opposition Labour group leader Sir Albert Bore (Lab, Ladywood) added: “My understanding is there has not been a sales or marketing team or individual who was solely employed to increase the orders for Shelforce.
“Moreover efforts made to diversify the product range that Shelforce makes has been minimal, if not non-existent.”
He added there were also concerns over the commitment to Forward 4 Work. Is it the intention to let both organisations wither on the vine until they are no longer viable.” The firm has for the last decade made between £3 million and £4.5 million a year selling double glazing to the housing department as 66,000 council homes were brought up to the Government’s decent home standard.
But with 99 per cent now double glazed the council work has dried up, leaving just a £500,000 a year commitment for replacements and new homes.
The Birmingham Post understands that previous management’s only plan was to downsize the business by cutting staff and this has been rejected.
Cabinet member for transport and regeneration, Timothy Huxtable, who is responsible for the firm, repeated his commitment that no disabled staff would lose their jobs, but said more efforts are being made to diversify.
Coun Huxtable (Cons, Bournville) said: “I am aware there have been a number of serious managerial failings in developing and sustaining key services that support the most vulnerable people in Shelforce.
“The managers that I feel to be most responsible for this failure are no longer employed by the City Council.
“The council has never implied that Shelforce’s predicament is the fault of its disabled workforce.
“It has stressed that it has proved difficult for Shelforce to replace work following the completion of the Decent Homes programme and the impact of very low demand for construction based products in a very competitive market.”
He said that staff are now working on plans to keep the business going, including a new deal with its supplier Bowater and discussions with the council’s Birmingham Energy Savers project over the manufacture of solar panels.
And he added that a report would be presented to the Cabinet in the near future outlining the options for the future and that staff would be consulted over this.