New hope for Westcombe workers

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The ruling Conservative council administration have denied a U-turn after welcoming an 11th hour attempt to save a company which gives jobs to the disabled.

The ruling Conservative council administration have denied a U-turn after welcoming an 11th hour attempt to save a company which gives jobs to the disabled.Leading disability employment specialist Papworth Trust had advised the council that Westcombe's method of providing employment to people with disabilities was outdated and was no longer the most beneficial for the employees concerned.

The city council's cabinet chose to find alternative opportunities for the employees and to wind down Westcombe Engineering Services.

However, Councillors David Thorpe and Michael Fletcher, acting as independent local businessmen, want to investigate the possibility of keeping the company running in the form of a charitable trust under a more modern business model.

"I am delighted that these two local businessmen have decided to look at whether they could keep Westcombe running as a charitable trust," said Councillor Peach. "The city council will fully co-operate with them and their advisers as they examine the merits of such a move."

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12.15pm update: The leader and deputy leader of Peterborough City Council, John Peach and Stephen Goldspink, have pledged to help the Westcombe Engineering Services rescue effort – two months after they rubberstamped the decision to close the council-funded workshop.

That decision – made by the 10-member cabinet on September 3 – would have seen 21 disabled and four able-bodied workers lose their jobs on October 26.

However, after Tory backbenchers David Thorpe and Michael Fletcher raised the potential of keeping Westcombe running as a charitable foundation, the city council agreed to a two-month stay of execution.

Denying the council had been forced into a U-turn, Cllr Goldspink said: "Circumstances have changed. A number of ideas have come forward that were not available at the time and we are happy to look at them."

Cllr Peach ruled out the possibility of Westcombe becoming a long-term council enterprise, and said the firm would have to be transformed into an independent charitable trust.

He said: "The city council will fully co-operate with them (Cllrs Thorpe and Fletcher) and their advisors as they examine the merits of such a move. However, I don't want to give false hope. The books and accounts will be looked at to see if the business is a goer or not."

Leader of the Independent group Cllr David Raines, a leading voice in the campaign to save Westcombe, welcomed Cllr Peach's statement but reiterated a demand made last week for an extraordinary council meeting to debate the decision. He said: "There is a lot of concern from people involved with Westcombe and in the Tory backbenches."

Meanwhile, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat group Cllr Darren Fower said the words emanating from the town hall were "bizarre".

He said: "Just what is this council playing at?

"Now we have the leader of the city council giving the impression that the council will be happy to support Westcombe Engineering? The way the Tory council have handled this threat is bizarre."

Council-funded Westcombe was expected to make losses of 349,000 by the end of the financial year, while markets for the factory's precision tools had dried up.

Following consultation with the Papworth Trust – one of the UK's leading disability charities – Westcombe, in Royce Road, Eastfield, was deemed an out of date model of employment for the 21st century.