Britain's Rail Boss Justifies Shift to Indian Call Centres

14 November 2003

The fast-accelerating trend to move UK call centre operations to India and other low-cost areas of the globe was defended Wednesday by Chris Scroggins, chief executive of National Rail Enquiries.

NRE is planning to move its massive call centre operations to India -- a move vehemently opposed by UK trade union Amicus -- and Scroggins was accordingly called before the Parliamentary transport select committee to explain the decision.

Indian call centre staff, he claimed, "are more educated and do a better job than those in Britain". These qualities would improve NRE's service to the public and provide greater accuracy of information. And, seemingly by way of afterthought, Scroggins volunteered that the move would also save train operating companies "up to £25 million ($42.21m; €35.81m) over several years".

A pilot programme involving just ten staff has already been set up in the Indian state of Bangalore, although no decisions had yet been made about the main contract tendering process

The NRE migration from the UK would threaten over one thousand call centre jobs spread across four cities - most in areas of higher than average unemployment.

Amicus national secretary David Fleming told the committee: "What we have to establish is a culture of openness when companies decide to outsource. ATOC [the Association of Train Operating Companies] said last month they were only considering off-shoring when in actual fact they had already started."

He challenged ATOC to substantiate its claims that a move would result in greater efficiency. He had called the Bangalore rail enquiries service on Monday and got a "confused and unclear response" to his travel query. "The operator admitted she was not in the UK but refused to say which country she was based."

"What have ATOC got to hide if they are instructing their staff to cover up the fact they are based thousands of miles away from the towns, cities and rail network they are supposed to service?" he asked.

The select committee will announce its findings in due course -- an outcome awaited with interest (and likely anxiety) by many of Britain's call centre operations.

Data sourced from: BBC Online Business News (UK); additional content by WARC staff