Following a meeting on Saturday with Flora Somerville (Unison), a staff representative from Citizens Advice Direct (CAD) Call-handling Centre, Stornoway, and local Councillor Gordon Murray, Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP, Angus MacNeil is to table Parliamentary Questions to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to clarify the situation in terms of funding.
The news that the future of the Citizens Advice Direct Call-handling Centre in Stornoway is uncertain has caused alarm in the community. The uncertainty is due to the fact that the current CAD contract expires on 31st March 2015 and there has been no confirmation of a renewal of its contract from Citizens Advice Scotland, or terms of renewal for the Citizens Advice consumer Helpline. As a consequence, Advice Direct Scotland issued employees with redundancy notices on the 1st January 2015. The consequences of the loss of 27 jobs in an already economically-fragile Outer Hebrides are very serious.
Mr MacNeil has also written to Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) who rent the premises to Advice Direct Scotland, to ask if a more suitable financial arrangement can be found to safeguard the jobs.
Ironically, the centre in Stornoway has been outperforming other centres around the UK making it probably the number one call-handling centre in the UK. The highly-trained and dedicated staff have not only proven themselves to be extremely capable in the service but have become an established and highly committed workforce locally whose loyalty, in a sector where staff turnover is high, has certainly contributed to the high performance ratings.
Angus MacNeil MP said: “I met with a staff representative and a Unison representative, during what is a worrying time for all employees at the Citizens Advice Direct Call-handling Centre in Stornoway.
“Essentially this could stem back to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills at Westminster, not providing the necessary funds for CAD to ensure it continues its work. In short, the employees have a target of about 46 phone calls a day and the average call time is nine minutes. Employees are well trained and highly specialised in consumer law. They work intensively handling and estimated 200,000 calls per year, primarily from across Scotland but on occasion the rest of the UK.
“Therefore, I am tabling questions to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills at Westminster, to try and understand their role in the current concerning situation and how we can encourage them to help. Secondly, there is a concern that of the premises in Scotland that CAD operate, they own one and rent the other, perhaps giving the owned site in Glasgow an advantage. Therefore I have contacted HIE to establish this, also what help can be given to level the playing field?
“Needless to say, maintaining jobs in the islands, is a priority and these jobs important in Lewis.”
Commenting Cllr Gordon Murray said: “I welcome Angus MacNeil’s intervention on behalf of the local workforce at Citizens Advice Direct, Stornoway. The loss of those jobs would have a catastrophic effect on not just Stornoway but the Western Isles.”