New jobs for old as labour market sees changing times

THE LABOUR market painted a vivid picture of a changing economy yesterday as jobs were lost on the high street and created on the electronic superhighway, which is rapidly changing the way we do business.

Nortel, the Canadian telecommunications giant, announced plans to create 1,800 UK jobs while Prudential, the life insurance group, said it was shutting all of its 103 branches at a cost of 1,445 sales jobs.

The new jobs in Paignton, Devon and Monkstown, Northern Ireland, are part of a global expansion by Nortel creating 5,000 jobs worldwide, spurred by booming demand for fibre-optic Internet systems.

The UK end of the expansion includes a pounds 60m investment in plant infrastructure. Nortel said it is aiming to triple production capacity of its optical Internet systems business in 2000.

Meanwhile, Prudential is wielding the axe for the second time this year, having already announced in June plans to cut 4,000 jobs over the next three years.

Around 600 financial consultants and 240 associated sales management staff are to leave the business before the end of the year. The restructuring also entails the closure of the Pru's sales branch network and its replacement with about 10 area centres at the cost of another 400 jobs.

Another 205 jobs are to go at Scottish Amicable, the mutual life group which Prudential bought in 1997, 50 of them by the end of the year, as a result of a decision to reorganise the independent financial adviser field sales team on product lines. The changes announced yesterday are expected to cost pounds 90m of which pounds 15m will be charged to 1999 profits. They are expected to yield savings of pounds 60m a year.

The losses will be partially offset by the opening of a new call centre in Glasgow next January, which will create 120 jobs.

Analysts said the two announcements reflect the huge impact the Internet is having on the economy, albeit in different ways.

The Pru said yesterday that the moves were prompted by growing competitive pressure in the industry both from traditional and online providers, which were forcing the company to look at ways of getting costs out of the business.

John Elbourne, the chief executive of Prudential's UK operations, said: "Prudential aims to maintain its market leading position in an increasingly competitive market place. Central to this is our ability to offer our customers value for money products in the most cost-effective manner." The pressures to cut costs in what, until recently, was a rapidly expanding industry paint a sharp contrast with the experience in industries served by Nortel.

"People are asking us to deliver more and more through the network," said Peter Newcombe, vice-president of Nortel's European optical network division. "This is creating demands on the network backbone. What we're trying to do is supply some of this demand by increasing investment in our capacity."

Nortel already employs 9,000 in Britain and its global research and development centre for optical Internet systems is based in Harlow, Essex. The Northern Ireland plant handled pounds 600m worth of exports last year.

The optical transmission business has been built since Nortel bought STC in 1991. The former UK company had played a pioneering role in developing digital and optical transmission technologies. Fibre-optic networks transport packages of data generated by computers.

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