NEWS that more than 100 jobs are under threat as one of Wigan’s biggest employers looks to wield the axe has been described as a “devastating blow”.
Stunned staff of bookmaking giant Betfred were told in a company announcement last night that bosses want to close the national call centre in the town centre.
A council chief today described it as a “body blow to Wigan.”
The decision came four years after the Warrington-based company owned by billionaire Fred Done bought the former state-owned Tote, based at Chapel Lane in Wigan, for a massive £265m.
The company stresses that nothing is yet set in stone as 45-day consultation period involving employees and their union representatives gets under way.
But yesterday’s announcement signalled that the call centre arm of the complex at Tote Park was no longer worth keeping open because so much custom has moved to online betting in recent years.
If the plan is executed, then 14 full-time and 98 part-time posts would be lost, although the company says that, given the size of the overall enterprise, it would hope that at least some of those former call centre workers could be re-deployed elsewhere.
It also points out that other Wigan-based operations which together employ a further 150 people - including IT, project managers and the Tote pool transmission department.
Betfred chief executive John Haddock said: “We are entering into a period of consultation with staff in our call centre based in Wigan and consequently 14 full-time and 98 part-time jobs are at risk.
“Unfortunately the call centre at the moment is no longer viable, especially with the significant shift towards mobile and digital betting.
“In the event of closure we would endeavour to redeploy a number of our staff across the Betfred Group.”
The news came as latest Jobseeker’s Allowance claimant count figures show that a greater percentage of Wigan folk are now in work than since such records began.
On being told of the Betfred announcement, Wigan Council’s deputy leader and regeneration portfolio holder Coun David Molyneux said: “This is a body blow to Wigan. When Betfred bought the Tote many compliments were paid to the state-of-the-art call centre and it is very disappointing that the company feels that it is no longer viable.
“I will be getting our people from the council’s Business Unit to liaise with Betfred to see if there is anything that can be done to assist, especially in terms of retaining and/or redeploying as many people as they can.
“There is never a good time to lose a job but it is especially difficult in the run-up to Christmas.”
John Park, Assistant General Secretary for Community, the union for workers in the betting industry said: “This news will come as a devastating blow for Betfred’s employees. These workers carry out difficult jobs in often challenging circumstances. Betfred must do everything they can to support those affected in finding new roles either within our without the company.
“Community is the union for all workers in the betting industry and will on hand to offer advice and support to our members within Betfred.
“This is only the start of the consultation process and it is important that those employees affected have the chance to make their voices heard.
“The betting market is going through major changes and Community will be working to ensure the terms and conditions of those on the frontline of the industry are protected and improved.”
Anyone affected by the announcement is asked contact Community’s Service Centre on 0800 389 6332 for help and advice.