Town suffers major jobs blow

THE economy of an Essex town was dealt a major blow yesterday when one of its biggest employers announced it is to axe 500 jobs there. Barclays, which owns the Woolwich mortgage lender, is to absorb the firm into its own organisation and as part of its restructuring will no longer operate its call centre in Clacton.

By Roddy Ashworth

THE economy of an Essex town was dealt a major blow yesterday when one of its biggest employers announced it is to axe 500 jobs there.

Barclays, which owns the Woolwich mortgage lender, is to absorb the firm into its own organisation and as part of its restructuring will no longer operate its call centre in Clacton.

Yesterday Douglas Carswell, MP for the area, said the resulting loss of jobs could have a serious knock-on effect for other businesses in the town.


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The centre, which opened in 1999, is the second biggest employer in Clacton after Tendring District Council.

The Barclays shake-up, which will start in February next year, was announced by the division's US boss Deanna Oppenheimer, who was brought in from Washington Mutual in August to turn round the UK retail banking arm which made profits of £2.45 billion last year.

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Ms Oppenheimer said the call centre in Clacton would close at the end of 2007 with the loss of 500 jobs.

She insisted no jobs would be transferred abroad as a result of the announcement.

Mr Carswell said he would be meeting with representatives of the company as soon as possible to discuss the closure.

He added he hoped he could work with Tendring District Council in trying to attract a similar employer to use the Jackson Road building where the Woolwich is currently based.

“I am very concerned indeed about this. It is not just bad for the 500 people directly affected, but it will have a dire knock-on consequence.

“The retail sector in Clacton has been struggling recently anyway, and if you take away 500 family incomes that could have a serious effect.”

Ivan Henderson, the former Labour MP for Harwich, also expressed his dismay at the news.

Mr Henderson had been instrumental in persuading the Woolwich to locate the call centre in Clacton.

In 2001, it was visited by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott who saw it as an example of how different agencies could operate in their own fields to get joint results.

“It was really good because everybody worked together. The district council was involved and the Colchester Institute ran courses on working in call-centres so the company would be able to access trained staff. This is a real shame,” said Mr Henderson.

Hugh Roberts, national officer for Amicus, said the union had been in negotiations about the closure for over a year and had managed to negotiate good terms for Woolwich employees.

“It is a difficult time for our members but we have agreements in place with Barclays to deal with this contingency.

“We have secured a fairly long notice period, and we have got retainment bonuses and severance terms which are comparable with what you would expect in the rest of the finance sector.

“We are confident we can work with the employer to minimise job losses.”

But he added there was no point in holding up hopes that Barclays decision might be reversed.

“It's not realistic and would be irresponsible. We are now helping people to get the best options for the future.”

The Woolwich has had a presence on the high street since it was founded in 1847 and now has 373 branches compared with the 1,656 sites Barclays operates.

Barclays said that Woolwich and Barclays branches that are within 300 metres of each other, representing about 10% of the network, or 200 sites, will be consolidated into single premises.

All the branches will be renamed Barclays and will offer mortgages under the Woolwich brand.

A quarter of the Woolwich's 3.8 million mortgage holders also have current or savings accounts with the firm, which will be transferred to equivalent Barclays accounts in the upheaval.

Barclays said the moves will give Woolwich customers up to four times as many branches as well as a host of extra services such as travel and motor insurance and local business banking.

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