Almost 500 workers are today facing redundancy after a home shopping firm announced its Preston call centre would close in the summer – with some of its full- time roles set to move overseas.
The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW) said staff at the Serco-run building on London Road, Preston, had been left “shell-shocked”.
The building, locally still known as the Littlewoods call centre, is operated by Serco on behalf of the home shopping company Shop Direct and was transferred from Shop Direct to Serco last June.
The closure of the site has been described as “terrible news” for Preston.
Up to 475 employees based at the site in Preston are affected by the proposal, but Serco is hoping this number will decrease depending on the number of alternative jobs that might be available at other Serco sites.
The company has blamed the increasing use of mobile devices such as smart phones and i-Pads by shoppers, and a corresponding fall in call volumes. There has also been a shift to online sales.
At present most of the 250 full time workers and 225 part time workers at the base take orders for items over the phone.
Carl Patching, transition and transformation manager for Serco, said: “Around 75 per cent of our sales are online and last year 19 per cent of those sales were made on gadgets like PDAs - but over Christmas this rose to 28 per cent.
“Because of that we have seen a reduction in the number of calls we receive in our call centre and we don’t see that changing.
“We have a dedicated redeployment team to help staff find alternative roles at other sites.
“We are working with the union and Jobcentre Plus to find jobs for other employees, which may involve helping people with interview skills and writing CVs.”
The firm plans a phased closure as different work types are moved out. The programme starts in early June and ends by early August. USDAW national officer David Johnson said: “While the staff were made aware last year of the possible closure of the site it is still devastating news for them, their families and also the community.
“It will be the end of an era for Preston with the closure of this site which has provided thousands of jobs in the area for many years.
“The joint trade unions have reluctantly acknowledged the company’s business case for the closure, and we are focusing on the support that can be given to staff to find alternative jobs. We will do all we can to support our members at this time and we will ensure the company finds alternative work within Serco and with other local businesses.”
The company has confirmed it has entered a formal consultation with staff concerning the proposed closure of the site.
When the potential future of the site was first revealed in May 2012, Serco promised the site would remain open for at least another year.
Serco said it now wants to “transform” the business and “support the changing shape of consumer shopping behaviour”. A statement by the company said at this stage it is proposed that 75% of full time UK roles will remain in the UK, with 25 per cent going to offshore locations in South Africa and India.
Coun Carl Crompton, Mayor of Preston, said: “ This is terrible news.
“It is a truly devastating blow for the city. Some people have worked there for up to 20 years and the site has
employed hundreds of people from Preston in its time. It must be devastating for the workers to find out they could lose their jobs.”
The blow came despite Serco recently releasing figures that showed it made a £302m profit last year.
It is hoped some Preston st staff will be able to relocate to Serco’s other sites in Aintree, Bolton, Cardiff and Sheffield.
The building’s fate is unclear.