1,500 jobs go as Energy Centres close

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The Independent Online
ALMOST 1,500 jobs were lost yesterday when Centrica said all its 243 former British Gas showrooms will close. The company said the decision - which will cost it pounds 60m - followed continuing losses at the stores, estimated to be pounds 25m in the first half of the year.

Unions attacked the move as a "disgraceful betrayal" of staff, who agreed a pay cut earlier this year to try to save the Energy Centre high street stores. Leaders claimed business would be affected because many people liked to pay their bills and have problems solved face-to-face.

Centrica, which acquired the stories in the demerger of British Gas two years ago, said every effort had been made to turn round the business. But losses of pounds 33m in 1998 were continuing. Centrica blamed difficult trading conditions and intense competition.

The chief executive, Roy Gardner, said he hoped as many staff as possible will be re-deployed across the Centrica group, where "extensive opportunities" existed. But unions expect most of the 1,445 staff, of whom 708 are part- timers, to be made redundant.

The company said its strategic review concluded that no further investment should be made in the high street shop network because of continuing losses. Centrica said it would offer early retirement, enhanced redundancy packages and help with other jobs.

But Stephanie Golden, national officer at Unison, said: "This is a double betrayal of staff who this year took a pay cut to protect jobs and keep shops open. Energy Centres have introduced many changes in the last year and in February concluded a partnership deal with the unions.

"We don't believe the company has given enough time to give all these changes a fair chance of success."

Unison said Centrica's directors had enough money to launch a pounds 1.1bn bid for the Automobile Association, but were now "turning their backs" on staff who had co-operated with restructuring. Ms Golden said: "Unison will be having urgent meetings with the company in an effort to get them to change their minds and give more time for the benefits of the recent restructuring to start coming through."

All the stores were shut yesterday because staff were attending meetings to be told about the closure decision. The shops will reopen for business today but Centrica said they would close for good over the next six weeks.