A new centre for Citizens Advice Direct in the Outer Hebrides was officially opened today (Monday) by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth, John Swinney MSP.
The Minister, who is also chairing the Convention of the Highlands and Islands which is being held at Borve on the Isle of Lewis, met with the Citizens Advice Direct team who earlier this year were contracted to deliver the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline.
The new centre, at Gleann Seileach, Stornoway, handles consumer calls from all over Scotland dealing with in excess of 900 enquires per day. The centre currently employs 40 people with a further 11 completing a six week Contact Centre training course through an initiative supported by Job Centre Plus and Skills Development Scotland.
A joined-up public sector approach sees Skills Development Scotland contributing towards training for those who were previously unemployed.
Citizens Advice Direct is now approaching its eighth year of operation, dealing with 80,000 calls in 2010/11 and approaching 100,000 calls for 2011/12.
Finance Secretary John Swinney said:
"Today I'm opening offices that will see Citizens Advice Direct staff in Stornoway answering calls from across the UK. The decision to establish new operations for the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on the Island is testament to the quality and skills of the local workforce and to the work of Highlands and Islands Enterprise. I am delighted to officially open the new contact centre, which has brought substantial new jobs and investment to the Western Isles."
"This Government and our enterprise agencies are doing everything, within our current powers, to support economic recovery throughout Scotland. The steps we are taking to improve connectivity, and to provide the most supportive business environment anywhere in the UK will create new opportunities for traditional and new industries to expand into new markets and thrive across the Highlands and Islands."
HIE has provided the fully fitted out high quality office space. The design, agreed with Citizens Advice Direct, provides a state of the art office at a cost of £409,000 with space for the company to expand in the future.
Andrew Bartlett, Citizens Advice Direct's (iterim) CEO, said: "The skills level of the posts means that salaries are expected to be considerably above the average and the total impact on the local community is estimated at just under £1.125 million."
Michelle Taylor, Citizens Advice Direct's Service Manager said "The centre provides development opportunities for staff and volunteers to become multi skilled and gain experience in the contact centre industry. We have recently been given funding from Bòrd na Gàidhlig to provide a Gaelic helpline, we are currently seeking volunteers to train to assist with this service."
Professor Lorne Crerar, Chairman of HIE, spoke at the opening event. He commented: "Centres like this one - serving the entire country from an island location - are not only providing valuable job opportunities but are proving that the Highlands and Islands is a natural home for roles which rely on exceptional customer service. Our people are our major asset, and the opening of this centre is a ringing endorsement of the skills and abilities available across the Highlands and Islands."
Leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Angus Campbell, said: "Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is delighted that the future of this service has been secured for the Islands. It builds on the high quality, professional service previously delivered through CNES at Shawbost over the last six years."
Citizens Advice Direct has also recently set up a new Social Enterprise company - Social Enterprise Direct. This will take forward all initiatives other than the Citizens Advice Direct contract.