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Tuesday, 30 April, 2002, 16:59 GMT 17:59 UK
Plug pulled on Cyber Bay?
ITV Digital call centre, Pembroke Dock
The centre puts 250,000 into west Wales each week
test hello test
By Nick Dermody
BBC News Online
line

The west Wales call centre taking the brunt of ITV Digital's disastrous deal with the Football League was once seen as the great employment hope for an area hit by job losses in the oil industry and the armed services.

When it was completed in September 1999, the purpose-built site at Cleddau Bridge - dubbed Cyber Bay because it also hosted a range of so-called new economy companies - was hailed as "the beginning of a new era" by Wales's First Minister, Rhodri Morgan.

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

Business leaders all but jostled with the politicians to talk about how the centre was "a unique model which could be emulated in other areas of the UK and Europe".

But that dream now appears to be over, and the Welsh Assembly and its business leaders are left looking for a replacement for an outlet which was pumping some 250,000 into the west Wales economy each week.

The site, which was completed in September 1999 and funded by the Welsh Development Agency, opened with 200 Manpower service centre staff and soon took on 600 more.

By 2000, the assembly's economic development bosses were hoping that up to 1,100 call centre jobs would be created.

The faith in the emerging call centre sector was underlined when it was selected as a suitable site for a Royal visit.

ITV Digital call centre worker, Pembroke Dock
The centre was a major employer in Pembrokeshire

When the Queen came to Wales in May that year to officially open the assembly building in Cardiff Bay, Prince Philip called in at Cleddau Bridge to see how customer calls from across the UK were handled.

Pembrokeshire County Council was given 1.5m to assist in the jobs initiative which was the biggest investment for three decades in the jobs black spot, far west of the more prosperous M4 corridor.

It soon seemed show itself as the right employer in the right place when the mobile telephone company 1st Line announced the closure of its call centres along the coast in Swansea and Cardiff with the loss of 2,000 jobs.

But ITV Digital's own-goal with the Football League - and the 178.5m it owes for a three-year broadcast rights deal - has proved too much for the skills of the hi-tech centre's 900 staff.

The two agencies which employ the centre's workers, Manpower and 7C, are expected to keep on a small staff to show potential clients how their operation is run.

Like any of the league football teams at the heart of the dispute, they are looking for a result.

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