Clarity needed on jobs threat

WHEN it was announced last week that the Leeds outsourcing company, Capita, would be taking over customer service for O2, including the management of O2’s call-handling and 3,700 jobs, Capita’s shares soared to an all-time high in response.

Now it seems that the reason why the deal looked so good from Capita’s point of view may have been revealed, with documents reported to show plans to close two call centres in Bury and Glasgow and make deep cuts at its Dearne Valley centre in South Yorkshire, while expanding its call centres in South Africa and India.

Although both Capita and Telefonica, O2’s Spanish owner, stress that these plans are anything but set in stone, that they were merely options to be considered, there is clearly a business case for these options to be pursued. Indeed, with Capita being an acknowledged specialist in reducing business costs and outsourcing jobs, there is a worrying logic to the reported scenario.

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The worry in this region, not surprisingly, will be centred in the Dearne Valley, an area blighted by unemployment for years following the decline of mining and manufacturing and where investment in call centres has played a large part in the area’s slow recovery.

The uncertainty among staff at the South Yorkshire centre, therefore, can only be imagined, with the statements from Capita 
and Telefonica hardly adding up to a convincing refutation of the initial claims and the Communication Workers Union reporting grave concerns among employees.

With South Yorkshire’s economic development having been dependent on European Union funding over recent years, and with the Government said to be diverting a large portion of the latest tranche of funds towards Scotland, uncertainty over the jobs that have already been established in the area is the last thing that is needed.

If there is one clear message coming not only from Capita but from almost all businesses using call centres, it is that they want to reduce the amount of telephone calls from customers – regardless of customers’ own views on this matter – and this will inevitably mean fewer jobs. The very least that Capita’s employees deserve, therefore, is clarity.