600 jobs set to go at city call centre

CLOSURE: Staff at the Preston Shop Direct in London Road and at Clinton Cards stores (inset) now fear for their future
CLOSURE: Staff at the Preston Shop Direct in London Road and at Clinton Cards stores (inset) now fear for their future
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More than 600 city jobs were today hanging in the balance, after the closure of a giant call centre was announced.

Shop Direct in London Road, Preston, which employs 600 staff, has been earmarked for closure in response to ‘rapidly changing’ consumer trends.

Staff who work at the base, taking orders for items over the phone, arrived yesterday be told the branch is set to be closed after a deal was struck for Serco to take over the call centre operation.

Meanwhile, Clinton Cards, which has branches in Friargate Walk, the Fishergate Centre, Chapel Street and Market Walk, in Chorley, has gone into administration.

Shop Direct bosses said 1,800 staff nationwide will be transferred to Serco, but some of the call centre operations are expected to be moved overseas. Shocked workers were yesterday called into a meeting and told the business will remain open for at least one year. A branch in Worcester is also earmarked for closure.

One woman, who left the office in tears, said: “I am extremely shocked, it has come out of the blue.”

One woman, in her 20s, said: “There had been rumours for a while, but we had not been told anything. I feel gutted.”

The branch will remain open for the next year, and bosses said staff will have a chance for “detailed discussion before any final decisions are made.”

But today, neighbouring businesses on New Hall Lane said it will have a significant impact on the city.

Sarah Shkurenko, of The Big Lunchbox, which is opposite the firm, said: “It is pretty quiet at times down here as it is.

“With more stuff closing it is not good. It is a busy road but most people are passing through, they do not do their shopping here.”

Mohammed Nadeem, who owns Super Sports on the road, said: “It is going to affect everybody, especially if you are looking at the sandwich shops and the news agents.

“There are a few people who come in here from there and buy sports equipment.”

David Johnson, national officer at union Usdaw, said: “This is shocking news for all Shop Direct’s loyal and hardworking staff and potentially devastating news for everyone who works at the Preston and Worcester contact centres.”

“We have long recognised the impact the changing nature of people’s shopping habits is having on Shop Direct but we have been working closely with the business to address these challenges in a considered and managed way.

“Our members will understandably be very angry that this process appears to have been in vain and counted for little in the eyes of the company.

“The proposal to close two contact centres is obviously our most serious immediate concern, but Serco’s suggestion that they may also export jobs abroad means the future of any job transferred to them is uncertain at best.”

Hugh Evans, policy director of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said: “

Shop Direct chief executive Mark Newton-Jones said: “The ways in which customers are shopping with us, contacting us and servicing their accounts have changed rapidly, driven by revolutionary advances in digital and interactive technology.

“Unfortunately, this will mean a need for far fewer people to be directly involved in customer contact in the future.

“We have chosen to work with Serco as they are an acknowledged leader in the field.

“Serco’s expertise, coupled with their investment in technological innovation, will ensure that we have a customer contact programme that is flexible and adaptable for the increasingly online and mobile world that we live in.”