Engine Shed Briefing for Scottish Parliament S4M-11033# Sarah Boyack:

Edinburgh’s Engine Shed is now in the process of closing and will wind up over the next 3 months. The closure of this service raises a number of issues that are of interest to policies.


  • 1.       Lack of long term funding for supported employment
  • 2.       Policy rush to accommodate new ideas
  • 3.       Cherry picking of those most able to achieve employment
  • 4.       “Give back” funding to win contracts
  • 5.       Lack of choice of personalised suport

The Engine Shed in Edinburgh provided organic bread, tofu and other food stuffs, ran a popular café and well used conference facilities.  But it’s main job was to provide training opportunities for 30 young people with learning disabilities, autism and other special needs.   Over a three year placement these young people had plenty of time to get ready for the world of work.


The Engine Shed has an impressive record of helping young people move into paid employment.   They raised over half the running costs themselves.   Edinburgh Council backed its operations with an essential grant to pay for the staff that provided the training.  But the value of this grant had fallen over time.  The Engine Shed was getting less money in 2013 than they did in 2003.  Many other organisations have the same problems as local authority funding is squeezed.

In 2013 the council announced a new plan.   Instead of just funding the six Edinburgh organisations which helped people with disabilities get job, a competitive tender would see a single service start in April 2015.  This would be based on a ‘supported employment ‘model i.e. where individuals are placed in work and then given support.   The council would move its support away from training opportunities.

Although this will be suitable for some people, it definitely won’t be appropriate for all the clients the Engine Shed support as they require much more help to even get to the point where employment becomes even worth considering.

At the time many people thought this was short-sighted and did not take into account the differing needs of young people with special needs.  Supported employment works well for many but not all.  So thousands signed petitions, wrote to councillors and were able to win a year’s reprieve for the service.

But over the last 12 months, despite the fine words and intentions of some councillors, the policy of the council didn’t change.  It continued to pursue the single approach to helping people into work and all the special employment services were put out to competitive tender in May.  Payment to the winning organisation or consortium would be by the number of jobs achieved.

The Engine Shed tried to join up with one of the consortiums but their share of a successful bid would have been only a quarter of their existing grant. This would have been a pyrrhic victory leading to closure in months.

The Engine Shed management tried various things to keep going.   Council staff made various suggestions to help.  There was even specialist advice to improve the business but nothing was proposed to end the long term pressure on funding.

The Engine Shed was running out of options.  They couldn’t make changes quick enough to develop the business side to increase trading income to meet shortfall in grants.  Reluctantly the management of the Engine Shed has decided to close and to examine new opportunities to “rebirth” the service in the future.

There are a number of areas that should be of real concern here.


Supported Employment for adults with learning disabilities has never had a clear recognised source of funding.  Many DWP programmes aim for people wht disabilities who are closer to the labour market than people with learning disabilities who need longer term interventions.  Local authority social work departments  often funded supported employment as an outcome of their day services.  As local authorities move away from day centre provision, continuing involvement  in this area may be questioned.

Moving funding from social work to economic development may make sense but this is what happened in Edinburgh and has led to the closure of the Engine Shed.    Economic Development departments have much wider responsibility for the local economy and manage on relatively few staff and little experience in this area.

There is a case to be made for long term strategic leadership in this area from the Scottish Government.


There are elements in the Council’s process of “policy rush”.  A new policy is decided and suddenly it’s the only show in town.  “We now need to support people after they get a job and not train them first.  So that will be the only thing going.”

The problem is the people who lose out are those furthest from the job market, those with little experience and skill who need help.  There was no need to take this approach.  Council staff could have split the funding into two sections – one for training and one for supported employment.  But in the headlong rush to this new policy, no one stopped to say what if this isn’t right for everyone.


Payment by results policies puts pressure on organisations to get more people into work.  30% of the funding will be linked to the numbers that get jobs,  only payable after jobs are secured.   Even a low proportion like this is essential to the longer stability of organisations.    The pressure will be on to achieve success by helping those closest to the job market to the detriment of those needing more intensive support.    People with learning disabilities who need more support and time to enter the labour market just like those who use the Engine Shed will be at the end of the queue.


Tendering for social care services means that organisations who want to win have to put in a competitive bid.  GIVE BACK is a term has sprung up for how this works.  The organisation works out what they could do for the total money and then decides how much to GIVE BACK  and then reduces their service by 5-10%.  This lower bid has a better chance of winning.

Organisations reason better to have a reduced service than none but this means that the service is reduced in scope and intensity.  Instead of a properly planned service with agreed standards, we have the market deciding the support of our most vulnerable.


The Scottish Government’s new policy of Self Directed Support is meant to mean choice for those that use services.  A single tendered contract means that people can get only the service the council has chosen.   Those that want training have no choice while the Engine Shed slowly vanishes.


The question no one knows the answer to yet is how many other services that people with learning disabilities rely on are also suffering from a gradual restriction on council funding, competitive tendering and give back?  Will they go the same way as the Engine Shed?

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