BT agrees to further talks over Alness jobs threat as political pressure mounts 

Telecoms & Financial Services, BT

The campaign to persuade BT Business to maintain desperately needed high quality employment in a remote part of the Scottish Highlands has taken a new turn, with the company agreeing to further talks despite its rejection last week of job-saving proposal that was tabled by the union earlier this month. (See story here) 

The positive development comes on the eve of a special meeting the union is hosting tomorrow (Friday) morning for every single one of the elected representatives serving the town of Alness and its surrounding area. That meeting is taking place amid a fast growing community backlash against the company’s initial announcement of its intention to withdraw from an already struggling local economy.

At the eye of the storm are just over 80 CWU-represented grade employees at the Ardroy House and Culgraggie House customer service contact centres which are scheduled for closure on February 29.

All have been effectively placed ‘at risk’ of possible redundancy in an area where alternative employment opportunities are few and far between – prompting an understandably horrified response that is being forcefully articulated by local politicians and the Scottish media.

Invites to tomorrow’s meeting – which has been organised by the CWU’s Scotland Region – have gone out to two Scottish Westminster MPs and eight Members of the Scottish Parliament as well as four Highland Council councillors whose wards would be especially badly affected by the job losses.

“The loss of so many skilled jobs in this remote and rural community would be devastating for the local economy,” explains CWU Scotland Region secretary Craig Anderson in his letter to invitees who span the entire Scottish political spectrum.

“This is an area where large employers are few and far between and the loss of so many posts would be felt far and wide.

“As the union representing workers at the sites, the CWU has put forward alternative proposals to maintain employment in Alness. Our plan recognises the union geography and the social and economic impact these job losses would have, and urges BT to engage constructively with the union on our credible and practical plan which would need a fairly limited revision to BT’s ‘Hybrid Working Policy’.

“If BT can show just a little flexibility we can ensure this vital infrastructure remains in Alness, the loyal and long-serving workforce can continue their service and that the community continues to benefit.”

One of the many invitees to have confirmed their attendance on tomorrow’s call – Scottish Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands Rhoda Grant – has already tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament which is expected to be heard early next week.

The motion – titled ‘Save BT jobs in Alness’ – reads: “Parliament notes the decision by British Telecom to close its Alness service centre with the loss of almost 100 jobs; understands that BT as recently as 2021 named Alness as a ‘Key Service Centre Location’ but now wants to close the site with the loss of these crucial jobs in this remote and rural community; further notes the positive alternative proposals put forward by the Communication Workers Union to maintain employment in Alness, proposals which recognise the unique geography and fragile nature of the local economy where the loss of so many jobs would have a very significant social and economic impact; urges BT to engage constructively with the union on this credible and practical plan that will ensure that this loyal and long serving workforce can continue their service with BT and that the community continues to benefit from hosting the centre .

CWU national officer for BT Business, Allan Eldred, concludes: “There’s no doubt that an appreciation of the particularly devastating impact that major job losses have in remote and rural areas like the Scottish Highlands span normal political divides – and I’m sure that everyone attending tomorrow’s meeting will be heartened to hear that BT Business is continuing to engage with the CWU over the union’s concerns.

“Our next meeting with the company will likely take place next week – almost certainly after the motion to the Scottish Parliament has been heard – but the timing can only be opportune because the strength of local feeling will be even clearer by then than it is now.

“We obviously remain hopeful that BT will come to our meeting with an open mind and see the sense in what we are proposing and open detailed discussions with the CWU with a view to keeping work in Alness.”