Barclays to axe 1,200 jobs and Woolwich name

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The Independent Online

Barclays is to cut more than 1,200 jobs as part of a drive to reinvigorate its lacklustre retail bank that will also see the Woolwich name disappear from the high street.

Three call centres will be closed - at Clacton in Essex, Dudley in the West Midlands and Bexleyheath in Kent, the former headquarters of the Woolwich.

Unions were disappointed by the job cuts, but they and the bank said staff turnover, natural attrition and redeployment within Barclays would account for the vast majority of the cuts.

The shake-up will see most of Woolwich's 373 branches re-branded Barclays in February, six years after the country's third-biggest bank paid £5.9bn for the former building society.

Described at that time as "the prettiest girl on the high street" by John Stewart, Woolwich's chief executive, the acquisition has long been regarded an expensive failure by most experts in the City.

Barclays' ambitions for the takeover to significantly bolster its share of the UK mortgage market and provide a platform for overseas growth were thwarted by the bank's failure to integrate the Woolwich successfully.

Profit margins at the lender are under pressure and Barclays made the wrong call by withdrawing from the lucrative buy-to-let market in 2003, according to analysts.

In February, Barclays kicked off the banking reporting season with record £5.3bn profits despite a dismal showing from the Woolwich.

The former building society, which historically is responsible for 6 per cent of British home loans, actually lent 3 per cent less in a year when the market grew by 10 per cent as it lost business to rivals, including HBOS.

John Varley, Barclays' chief executive, vowed to put that right and has lured Frits Seegers from the US financial services giant Citigroup to head its struggling retail bank, the fourth man to do so in less than two years. Mr Seegers was guaranteed a pay and bonus package worth £10.8m in his first year.

He oversees Deanna Oppenheimer, the US retail banking expert brought in partly to revive Barclays' flagging mortgage business. Ms Oppenheimer said yesterday: "Today we unveil our plans to transform Barclays into the best bank in the UK, serving more customers and businesses than any of our competitors. We're going to provide a better branch experience and innovative, hassle-free banking that's second to none.

"We will give a new lease of life to our branch network through refurbishment and, where necessary, relocation to places that are better for our customers. We will then look at building and opening new branches in growth areas where we're currently not represented."

Woolwich-branded mortgages will be sold across Barclays' 32,000 branches. Woolwich branches within 300 metres of a Barclays will be merged. No job losses were expected as a result of branch closures.