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Aid row as Trainline moves to India

Aid row as Trainline moves to India

Andrew Clark Wednesday March 2, 2005 The Guardian

Virgin has been accused of jeopardising the prosperity of a small Highlands town by allowing its rail bookings service, the Trainline, to shift its call centre operations from Scotland to India.

The TSSA transport union has written to Sir Richard Branson to complain that more than 300 jobs are at risk at the Trainline, which is 80% owned by Virgin.

Some 260 employees are presently based at Dingwall, near Inverness, in a call centre that was established with regional development aid from the government in 1998. A further 178 staff are based at premises in Edinburgh.

Gerry Doherty, the TSSA general secretary, told Sir Richard: "Your desire to move the jobs from Dingwall and Edinburgh to the cheapest destination possible seems to be at odds with your philosophy - as stated on the Virgin website - that 'each business encourages a community spirit to ensure we make a difference to other peoples' lives'."

The Dingwall call centre was originally established by the software company Cap Gemini and was taken over by the Trainline in 2001. Mr Doherty said Dingwall relied heavily on call centre employment.

He pointed out that through its trains operation, Virgin received 578m of public money last year and said the shift offshore "has done anything but engender a community spirit".

The Trainline's move comes hot on the heels of National Rail Enquiries, which defied protests from unions and MPs by shifting half of its calls to a centre in Bangalore, India, last year.

Vertex, which operates the Scottish call centres on the Trainline's behalf, said it was hopeful of finding replacement clients to preserve jobs in Dingwall and Edinburgh.

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The Trainline accounts for just under 10% of all tickets sold on Britain's railways. Virgin owns it with two minority partners - National Express and Stagecoach.

In a statement, the Trainline's chief executive, Alan Tomlin, said that the move would help provide a "flexible service offering".

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He continued: "We will maintain our current high standards with the transfer of work to India, and it will not affect the level of service we offer to our customers in any way."

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