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Redundancies likely in wake of Consumer Direct closure

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: March 17, 2012

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Thirty-five jobs are under consultation following the closure of the Cornwall office of advice service Consumer Direct.

The Office of Fair Trading, which has overseen the service's delivery across the UK, is winding down Consumer Direct ahead of its complete closure at the end of this month.

In the South West, the service was delivered on the OFT's behalf by SWERCOTS, which employed 38 people at its head of operations in Camborne.

From April, an alternative consumer service will be offered by Citizens Advice, which will be delivered by business service provider Agilisys.

In December, the OFT gave SWERCOTS three months notice that its contract would be terminated. Last week, those staff who did not find alternative work, were transferred under TUPE to Agilisys, which has a regional base at Western-super-Mare.

A source told the Western Morning News that three former SWERCOTS employees would take on new roles with Agilisys, while the others are negotiating redundancy.

An Agilysis spokesman said it had retained "a number" from the Consumer Direct South West operation, but could not discuss specific figures, with the TUPE process still underway.

She said: "We're working closely with these employees to identify any possible ways of avoiding redundancy."

SWERCOTS provided a telephone-based service to customers from across the region. Its staff handled around 200,000 calls a year and 12,000 emails from the public.

It was established as a private company by guarantee in 2004, from a partnership formed between 15 local authority trading standard services across the South West.

SWERCOTS had been "actively seeking" other, non-government contracts when news that Consumer Direct was to close came about.

However, Cornwall Council cabinet member and SWERCOTS vice chairman Lance Kennedy said it had been unable to secure new business when its contract was terminated by the OFT, forcing it to enter liquidation.

He said the company's demise came about despite its performance continuing to increase, saying: "It's a highly solvent company, with excellent past figures, which continued to improve.

"The staff stuck with the company to see the contract out and performance figures improved during this time. For any employer looking for employees, I can't recommend this loyal and efficient workforce highly enough – I'm only sorry there's not more we can do."

Mr Kennedy said that under the statutes by which the company was set up, any remaining profits returned to the partner local authorities once the liquidation process is complete must be spent on "a like organisation".

He added that new avenues would be explored to put the money to best use as soon as was possible.

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