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Friday, 26 April, 2002, 05:41 GMT 06:41 UK
'Keep working' plea to ITV Digital staff
ITV Digital call centre, Pembroke Dock
It is hoped another client will take over the centre
Nine hundred staff at an ITV Digital call centre in west Wales have been told to try and carry on working as normal despite fears for their jobs if the company is broken up for sale.

Administrators of the troubled digital television provider said on Thursday they were inviting offers for any of its assets after failing to sell the business as a going concern.

ITV Digital call centre worker, Pembroke Dock
Young people have few career choices locally

The ITV Digital customer service operation at Pembroke Dock may be left with no work to do if the remaining pay-TV channels are taken off the screen.

But call centre staff are hopeful that their employers, Manpower, can find another client that needs their skills.

ITV Digital - which offers digital terrestrial television (DTT) services across the UK - went into administration in March.

The company, launched as ONdigital in 1998, has always struggled to compete with BSkyB, and said it could not afford to pay the remaining 178.5m it owed the Football League for a three-year broadcast rights deal.

Workers told BBC Wales that morale was still high despite the grave uncertainty about their jobs over the past few weeks.

Ryan Giggs advertising ITV Digital football coverage
ITV Digital paid dearly for sports rights

Their team leaders and managers gave them regular updates as the crisis deepened on Thursday.

Although employees have been told to keep working, the situation could change dramatically if the ITV Digital service is cut back further.

The company has more than 1m subscribers, although it is reported they are losing 4,000 customers a day.

On Monday, Cardiff-based company SDN pulled the plug on the ITV Select pay-per-view movie venture it ran jointly on the ITV Digital platform.

If the remaining paid-for channels such as Sky Movies, UK Gold and E4 are removed by their suppliers, the ITV Digital call centres in Pembroke Dock and Plymouth may no longer be needed.

Don Esmond, the mayor of Pembroke, said the future of the call centre was crucial, as it was the largest private employer in Pembrokeshire.

Don Esmond, Mayor of Pembroke
Don Esmond said the centre's survival was vital

"It's very worrying for the town - it's taking 900 secure jobs out of the locality which we haven't had for some time.

"A lot of people who had no hope and had never worked since their mid-twenties now have secure employment here.

Jobs at ITV Digital have been seen as a vital means of preventing young people from leaving the area in search of employment.

Mr Esmond said his own son, Darren, had moved away from Pembrokeshire to find work before returning to take up a job at the call centre.

He asked: "What's going to happen now? Are our young people going to have move away for employment?

"This had stopped - people from school have had something to look forward to in the last 12 months whereas during the past they hadn't."

Monkey has not been able to rescue ITV Digital

The ITV Digital call centre staff are actually employed by the agency Manpower, which has taken out a long term lease on the site.

Local authorities and politicians are doing their best to promote the presence of a highly skilled, experienced workforce to other potential clients.

Mr Esmond revealed that several interested parties had been shown around the call centre in recent weeks.

"We've got a first class facility here - we've got a first class workforce," he said.

"We're quietly confident and hopeful that another employer will be found for this site."

A number of Nationwide League clubs are facing a financial crisis with the collapse of ITV Digital.

Wrexham have released eight first-team players after being relegated to Division Three, while the future of Swansea City has been uncertain for many months.

Cardiff City, who are hopeful of promotion to Division One via the playoffs, should be more secure with the backing of multi-millionaire owner Sam Hammam.

BBC Wales's Hywel Griffiths
"The waiting game continues for 900 workers at Pembroke Dock"
See also:

11 Apr 02 | TV and Radio
The ITV Digital backlash
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