A cable communications firm has officially announced plans to shed 1,500 call centre jobs, including 400 in Sussex.

Staff at the NTL centre in Gardner Road, Portslade, were told last month the main part of the business was to shut on May 4.

Yesterday the cable operator rubber-stamped its decision to merge 13 call centres across the UK into three bases at Manchester, Swansea and Bellshill in Glasgow.

Some staff at Portslade will be offered the chance to move and about 50 sales and customer relations workers will continue to work at the building.

The shake-up is expected to reduce costs, although the firm said it planned to invest more heavily in technology and training at its remaining call centres.

Chief executive Simon Duffy said: "NTL has made good progress in improving its customer service but we still have some way to go.

"The consolidation of our call centres and investment in leading-edge technology is a critical step on our path to greatly improved service for our customers."

NTL - based in Hook, Hampshire, but listed in New York - is the UK's largest cable company, employing about 14,000 staff.

The news comes as the group emerges from a major financial overhaul to generate new capital and reduce interest repayment charges.

NTL filed for bankruptcy protection in May 2002 after debts spiralled on the back of a spending spree made at the height of the telecoms boom.

It emerged from bankruptcy protection in January after the firm's bondholders agreed to swap £6.8 billion-worth of debt for shares, leaving the company in their control.

A rights issue raised £824.3 million during 2003 and enabled the group to turn cash flow positive, meaning it can generate enough money to run the business without incurring debt.

Net losses fell by 79 per cent to £130 million between October and December as quarterly revenues grew by eight per cent to £577 million, totalling £2.23 billion for the year.

Mr Duffy said the job losses marked the "big organisational change for NTL" and estimated savings to be about £30 million a year on completion.

The call centres support its UK home division which represents two-thirds of its entire business. NTL reduced staff numbers at its business division by 650 last year.

Although NTL was closing its call centres at five sites, the buildings would continue to support the business by providing services such as telesales and IT support.

Thursday April 08, 2004