Nearly 400 Borders jobs at stake as Ovo Energy closes its Selkirk office
Nearly 400 Borderers are in danger of losing their jobs after Ovo Energy decided to close its office in Selkirk and enter into a stage of voluntary redundancy.
The electric and gas supplier took over the customers and staff of Spark Energy in November 2018, and is one of the biggest employers in the Borders.
Since the lockdown due to coronavirus, the offices at Selkirk’s Ettrick Riverside building have been empty, with staff working from home.
And the company is now looking to reduce its 8,000 UK-wide staff by 2,600, as more and more customers deal with the company online rather than over the phone.
Stephen Fitzpatrick, CEO and founder of OVO said: “Today is a very difficult day.
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“We have a brilliant team here and this news isn’t a reflection of anyone’s work.
“What should have been a much longer process to digitise the SSE business and integrate it with OVO has been accelerated due to the impact of the coronavirus.
“We are seeing a rapid increase in customers using digital channels to engage with us, and in our experience, once customers start to engage differently they do not go back.
“As a result, we are expecting a permanent reduction in demand for some roles, whilst other field-based roles are also heavily affected.
“There is never an easy time to announce redundancies and this is a particularly difficult decision to take.
“But like all businesses, we face a new reality and need to adapt quickly to enable us to better serve our customers and invest in a zero carbon future.”
Borders MP John Lamont said the news was devastating.
He spoke with Mr Fitzpatrick on the phone late on Monday evening prior to the official announcement.
He said: “This is devastating news. This is an already anxious time for many people so this news will be particularly difficult for those affected.
“Ovo is a big employer in the Borders and this news will add further challenges for our local economy at a time when we are already dealing with the impact of coronavirus.
“We will have to wait and see how many jobs could be at risk.
“In the meantime, I hope that the usual help from Scottish Borders Council and the Scottish Government will be available to the employees that need support and I have contacted them to ensure this will happen.
“I hope that as many jobs as possible will be retained.
“I will continue to be in discussions with Ovo over the coming days to ensure that employees in Selkirk receive all the information and help they need.
“However, anybody who is worried about their job and is looking for advice, should contact me and I will do my best to assist.”
Mr Lamont’s conservative colleague Rachael Hamilton MSP, who also represents Selkirk, said: “This is very sad news for people in Selkirk who may lose their jobs.
“It is an especially difficult time if you have to find alternative employment.
“I feel that this is perhaps a sign of things to come as our economy grapples with the coronavirus outbreak. Nevertheless, I hope that there will not be as many job losses as first suggested, and many will be able to work from home.
“Despite current social distancing measures, it is vital that anyone made redundant gets the usual help that someone would get under normal circumstances.
“I stand ready to help employees who require help at this difficult time. Anyone with concerns should contact me via the usual means.”
The Southern contacted Ovo this morning to ask how many employees will be affected, but we were told that because the company was entering a stage of voluntary redundancy, it would have to evaluate the numbers after this stage is completed.
A spokesperson for Ovo Energy said: “We will be closing our Selkirk office, which is where around 400 Spark employees work from.
“Spark is a full stack operation including management, support functions and IT.
“Spark employees will be offered voluntary redundancy as part of our programme, as we look to reduce roles across the business.
“Spark employees who remain will be relocated or will work from home.”
The move has been attacked by the GMB Union, which said Ovo has gone back on its promise not to lose any jobs after its takeover of SSE Energy in September.
Justin Bowden, GMB’s senior organiser, said: “Coronavirus outbreak or not, this is a massive betrayal of promises made to workers and politicians that the sale to OVO would not result in job losses.
“The crisis and the SVT cap have affected the whole energy retail market but you cannot just cut your way out of a crisis in search of profit.
“Whilst we were able to save 700 jobs from offshoring for now, this is still 2,600 good UK jobs from a company that is busy soaking up taxpayers money from the furlough scheme.
“GMB says companies who take government money from the Job Retention Scheme should be prevented from making redundancies for at least year.”