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05 May 2017
Forth Valley Stronger Together

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 number of people with substantial learning disabilities in England and Wales who are in paid employment has fallen.

While unemployment in Britain generally has been fallen, the Department of Health has suggested that the proportion of learning disabled people who were in paid employment fell from 7% in 2012-13 to 6.8% in 2013-14.

This is probably caused by cuts in the supported employment programmes which help people get into work.  

Figures for Scotland from ESAY suggest paid employment in Scotland is less at only 6.2% (not including those training for employment)

Edinburgh’s Engine Shed is now in the process of closing and will wind up over the next 6 months. But are other services facing a similar fate?

Last year thousands of people signed petitions and protested against the closure of Edinburgh’s Engine Shed.  This vital service provided much need training for young people with special needs when they left school and college.  It gave them time to get ready for the world of work.  The Engine Shed was also popular because of its café, wholesome foods and conference facilities. 

However it was dependent on a grant from Edinburgh Council to continue operations.  But those grants have been under pressure for a while and further cuts are proposed in the 2015-16 budget. 

A Statement by the Engine Shed

Over the last year at the Engine Shed has tried to work with Edinburgh Council to resolve our difficulties.

 This includes:

  •        Receiving a further years transition funding of £211,000 until April 2015 to allow time to develop new opportunities;
  •         Meeting and working  with Business Gateway to develop new ways of workings;
  •         Working with a Community Enterprise Consultant funded by the Just Enterprise scheme operated by Business Gateway. 
  •         Spending 4 months in an ultimately unsuccessful negotiations with the “Preferred Consortium” to secure a place in a joint tender that recognised the Engine Shed’s unique contribution to support young adults in learning employments skills. 
  •        A willingness to explore new option for individuals including self-directed support.  
  •        Exploring way of applying to the Challenge Fund and other Third Party Grants programme available through the Edinburgh City Council;
  •        Exploring ways of applying for future European Social Funds (subject to first having a grant suitable for matching) from April 2015.   
  •        From April to June, the CEO and directors taking part in a series of three meetings  with senior council staff and councillors to explore funding opportunities. 

It is with some sadness that we have to announce the closure of the Engine Shed in Edinburgh.  Below is a statement from Marian MacDonald, CEO going into more detail on this matter.  Last year thousands of people signed petitions and protested against the threats to the closure and we were able to win a year’s reprieve for the service.  However the policy of the council did not change and it continued to pursue a single approach to helping people with learning disabilities into work.

This made it impossible to secure continuing funding from this council department for a service like the Engine Shed which focuses on providing a more complicated pattern of training opportunities, work placements and job hunting.    In addition the Engine Shed’s ability to manage was getting more difficult following several years of the restricted funding from the council.  The Engine Shed was getting less money last year than they did 10 years previously. 

 As far as we are aware at no point in the last year has anyone from the council said that they didn’t want the Engine Shed but it has suffered from not fitting into the new priorities that the council has been promoting.  Given that we are moving into the world of choice, Self Directed Support, where people who get services can choose what they want to do with their support, it is strange to see this unique and valued service vanishing by neglect while it remains popular with those who use it. 

  The questions we will have to face in the future are

 ·         how much choice do people with learning disabilities really have if there is only one model of support for them and

  •  how many other services that people rely on are also suffering from this gradual restriction on council funding?



 You will be aware that over the past two years the Engine shed had been responding to the challenge brought about by the review undertaken by the City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) of their funding strategy for specialist employability service in Edinburgh.