A HIGHLAND village faces “devastation” following the axing of a call centre which employs 21 workers.
Community leaders in Brora, which has a population of around 1,200, claim the job losses at the Serco service centre are the equivalent of over 1,500 people in the Highland capital of Inverness being made unemployed in one fell swoop.
Local councillor Deirdre Mackay said: “I was absolutely shocked to hear this news which came out of the blue.
“It is a tragedy for anyone to lose their job, and 21 jobs under any circumstance is significant but in a community such as ours, where opportunities are so limited, this is truly devastating.
“There are two issues here, one being the immediate support required for the workforce and the second being the economic situation in Sutherland.”
She claimed Sutherland was being forgotten compared to other areas, including island communities.
Mrs Mackay added: “Recent research into the cost of living crisis showed East Sutherland to be one of the worst affected areas.
“Sometimes I get angry, and this is one such time, about the level of political attention afforded to Sutherland.
“Yet, if we look at the islands, taking Shetland as an example, where the biggest current problem is a shortage of labour, national politicians clamber over themselves to pledge even more support and attention.
“Where is the fairness and where is the balance in that? What this means is that economic opportunities are being lost not only for Sutherland but other similar mainland rural communities.”
She said Sutherland was an outstanding location with talented people, but what is missing is the political will to recognise the local challenges and provide the support required.
Serco is an international service company supporting governments, agencies and companies with operational, management and consulting expertise.
The company has a strong presence in Scotland, working on behalf of the Scottish Government, local authorities and the UK Government.
It operates customer contact and service centres in Fort William, Brora and Glasgow, with the Brora location focused on health services.
A spokeswoman said: “Serco announced the proposed closure of its site in Brora to the team of 21 staff who work there.
“The proposal has come about because of significant changes in the levels of demand for the services we deliver for the client serviced from the Brora site.
“We have seen demand fall with the move from 0800 to 0300 numbers and at the same time, customers have been switching from using the phone to online channels and text which requires less people to deliver the service.
“In fact, over the two years demand has fallen by 50 per cent. The proposal for the future is that the service will be run from our Glasgow site which will both increase efficiency as well as bringing staffing levels in line with customer demand.”
The comany has now entered a 45 day consultation period with staff.
Customer Services director Garry Robinson said: “This has been a very difficult decision to make.
“We will be giving all our colleagues every support during the coming weeks and would like to thank all the team in Brora for their commitment, professionalism and the quality of their work in delivering such excellent customer service.”
Councillor Mackay said: “This is a real David and Goliath story and the offer of relocation to Glasgow speaks for itself.
‘It would however be helpful, even at this late stage, for SERCO to have discussions with Highland Council, HIE and the local members to look at how the skills and strengths of the workforce may be utilised.
“The workforce in Glasgow is different from the workforce in Brora. It is well known that our experienced local staff have life skills, a strong work ethic, and a positive attitude to what they do, they also provide a loyal and stable workforce, qualities which is not readily available in cities where staff tend to be young and quickly move on.”
A spokesperson from HIE said: “Clearly the loss of so many jobs In Brora is a significant blow for the area and our immediate priority is to support the staff affected.
“We are working with our partners in Skills Development Scotland and Highland Council on the PACE initiative to ensure that any member of staff who may face redundancy is given advice and assistance to find other opportunities. “