Half of rail inquiry calls go to India in £100m deal

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The Independent Online

Half of the 50,000 calls made to the national rail inquiry service every day are to be handled in India in a decision described as "bonkers" by union leaders in Britain.

Half of the 50,000 calls made to the national rail inquiry service every day are to be handled in India in a decision described as "bonkers" by union leaders in Britain.

The Association of Train Operating Companies(Atoc) yesterday announced that a £100m contract was to be shared between BT, which will use call centres in Bangalore, and the Ventura group, relying partly on staff in Bombay.

The existing service has already come under fire because operators lack local knowledge, but BT yesterday argued that it would have failed to win the contract if it had been unable to hold costs down.

BT, which will "outsource" calls to its partner ClientLogic, said it had safeguarded rail inquiry jobs in Derby and Newcastle upon Tyne by offering train companies "value for money". Calls answered from India on a trial basis had proved "very successful", Atoc said.

The companies hoped to avoid compulsory redundancies among British employees because high staff turnover meant the workforce would decline through national wastage.

The union Amicus estimates that while call-centre staff in Britain are paid between £11,000 and £16,000 a year, their equivalent in India will be on £2,000 to £4,000.

Anthony Smith, national director of the Rail Passengers Council, said that his organisation would keep a "very close eye" on the quality of information given to passengers.

Sally Bridge, national officer at the Communication Workers Union, described the decision as "bonkers", saying it could hit jobs of workers in this country. "Taxpayers' money goes into this service yet ... it was a stipulation of tendering for the project that some of the work had to be moved offshore." The union has written to the Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling, asking him to intervene.

David Fleming, a national officer at Amicus, said that at a time when some firms were deciding to repatriate such services to the UK, it was "absurd" to think that half of all rail inquiries will be handled better thousands of miles away.

Chris Scoggins, chief executive of National Rail Enquiries, said suppliers had been selected on the basis of "quality, reliability and value for money".

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