Barclays to create 2,000 tele-banking jobs in North-east

BARCLAYS, the UK bank, is to create up to 2,000 jobs in the North- east with a new telephone banking centre.

The centre, at Doxford International Business Park in Sunderland, is scheduled to open in early 1999. Barclays hopes to begin recruiting for the centre in the summer.

Gary Hoffman, delivery channel strategy director at Barclays, said: "Our decision reflects the increasing popularity of telephone banking among our customers. It is vital for our telephone banking service to be able to grow to meet their needs."

Barclaycall, the bank's telephone banking service, currently has more than 600,000 customers. Barclays predicts this number will grow to 1 million over the next two years.

Councillor Bryn Sidaway, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: "We are delighted that Barclays has chosen Sunderland for this major new development. This is further proof ... that Sunderland is an excellent location for businesses."

The news was not enthusiastically received by everyone. UNiFI, the trade union that represents more than two-thirds of Barclays' staff, said it had mixed feelings about the bank's plans.

Sarah Messenger, a national officer, said: "UNiFI always welcomes the creation of jobs and the North-east is an area where the union has been pressing for a new centre to be located. However, the fact that the union is not recognised in this centre is a matter of major concern for staff. It is hoped that this new project will not remove jobs from existing staff."

A Barclays' spokesperson said it did recognise the union on issues of health and safety, as well as on grievance and disciplinary procedures. He admitted the bank did not discuss pay with the union.

The spokesperson denied that the move would endanger branch jobs. He added: "The union ought to welcome 2,000 new jobs. It is good for the region and for Barclays as a whole."

Barclays' two other call centres are based in Coventry and Manchester. Barclays said the bank had considered numerous possible locations before settling on Sunderland, but had been won over by the quality of the site, the local workforce and the communication links. He said the North-east accent "engenders warmth and trust".

The spokesperson denied the bank had chosen to locate in Sunderland because of financial incentives.

Barclays' announcement follows a similar move by the Prudential and is part of an industry-wide expansion into telephone banking. Last month, the Pru announced it would build a new telephone centre in Derby, creating up to 1,500 jobs. Bank of Scotland and Standard Life have both said they will double their telebanking staff.

High street banks have rapidly expanded their tele-banking services in an attempt to claw back market share from successful entrants such as Virgin and the supermarkets.