Sarah Boyack: We must find way to keep The Engine Shed running

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My heart sank when I heard the news that The Engine Shed had been informed by council officials that funding for the project was to end.

Over the years I’ve met many Engine Shed trainees who have made it into employment.

I’ve also met their parents and relatives who couldn’t speak highly enough about the project and who understand the difference it makes.

Even in the good times it is harder for people with learning disabilities to get the access to personal development and training that will get them to the point where they have a CV that an employer will look at.

But these are tough times and across the city people with excellent qualifications and solid experience under their belt are struggling even to get an interview.

According to Enable Scotland, nine out of ten people who have a learning disability find it hard to obtain paid employment.

Around 46 per cent of people with learning disabilities currently don’t work, yet many of them have talent and skills that would make them excellent employees.

The challenge is to give them a fair chance at getting work.

The Engine Shed model of giving people with learning disabilities training and then practical work experience is transformative.

It opens the door for people who would otherwise never be given the chance to be paid for their skills and talents and to support themselves without being totally reliant on the state for all their needs.

It’s not surprising that last week’s news has left many feeling distressed, as they are already in the throes of dealing with the UK Government’s welfare reforms, too.

Moreover, The Engine Shed raises an increasing amount of its income from its trading activities.

It runs a very successful community cafe, a bakery and a shop and in recent years has expanded into hosting meetings and seminars. It’s a social enterprise so any profit is reinvested into the organisation.

These are tough times and I know as my party’s local government spokesperson just how tight the squeeze is on our local councils.

The impact of the underfunded council tax freeze, Scottish Government cuts to local councils and the growing demands for health and social care are having a real impact.

So I don’t envy the choices facing councillors and understand the pressures they are having to address.

There are tough choices, but we need to make sure that people with learning disabilities don’t lose 
out.

The last few years have seen supported employment take a hit in Edinburgh with the closure of BlindCraft and Remploy. That makes access to mainstream employment even more important.

And last week’s announcement by RBS that another 1400 jobs are to go reinforces the need to make sure that employability measures are at the heart of the council’s economic 
development strategy.

Although The Engine Shed has been in existence for 25 years, it has gone from strength to strength.

I hope that a way can be found to enable it to continue its invaluable work.

Sarah Boyack is Labour MSP for Lothian