If it's cheaper to run call centres in the UK than it is abroad, why don't companies bring business home and cut the dole queues?
Why do so many British companies still think that outsourcing call centres to countries such as India makes sense? We've all seen documentaries about hordes of Bangalore workers being taught to learn about EastEnders and Coronation Street so that when they call us to sell mobile phones they can also chat about what
was on the box last night in a fake attempt to steer us away from their southern Indian accent.
First, I have no interest in discussing what happens on the television with a perfect stranger and, second, I obviously have no objection to an Indian accent, except when the person who possesses it is instructed to tell me his name is John when it clearly isn't.
If the worker calling me is told to lie in the first sentence he uses to try to sell me something, how am I going to believe anything else he tells me? Companies here have historically suffered reputational risk by taking this route. As consumers, or perhaps even as shareholders, we have put up with overseas call centres because when we had full employment it was cheaper to send the work abroad, and we were helping India's economy, too.
Clearly times have changed. Our economic decline is more than matched by the rise in India's fortunes. With so many people jobless in the UK, the government sees it as part of the private sector's duty to mop up the mess. Shareholders and directors of our larger companies should address the lack of opportunities as a matter of urgency and business department ministers should be doing the same. Instead of lamely asking banks to lend more to small companies, why not show industry how they can help trigger economic revival by giving the unemployed on their doorstep a step up the ladder?
Call Britannia, a social enterprise call centre business that employs long term-unemployed here, says that it's now cheaper to outsource in the UK than it is abroad, so there is no longer even a commercial imperative. Given that the Indian economy is booming, we shouldn't feel bad about our role as global citizens. If it's cheaper to outsource in the UK, we should be asking why Indian companies don't do it as well.
Government-owned or Whitehall-funded buildings that have been closed could be offered on favourable terms to house the growth of enterprises such as Call Britannia, which strangely find it difficult to persuade UK companies to bring call-centre business back home. Why is that? Do we have a latent bias about giving jobs to the unemployed, especially those who have been out of work for long periods? As employers, we are starting to take more enlightened views towards engaging with ex-offenders because that ticks a CSR box. But hiring people on Jobseeker's Allowance does not tick any HR box, or any other type.
In my restaurant business, chefs and managers have always recruited staff through agencies. The key thing they look for is where a candidate currently works. Until recently, they wouldn't have had a clue or even cared where our local Jobcentre Plus is located, let alone advertise vacancies there.
The first time I mentioned this in a management meeting I raised it under the HR section of our agenda, and I was told that we would be sent people who were not fit to work. The next time I mentioned it was in a finance meeting when we looked at the costs agencies were charging us, so I pounced on the business case. If we halved our agency costs, I said, we would split the saving.
This is a conversation that should be happening in boardrooms and at the annual meetings of big businesses. The government's Work Programme is a good start, but the fact that Call Britannia has not become a recession success like online loans firm Wonga means that ministers and civil servants must engage at an early stage with companies. They need to ensure policies are more effectively driven to bring people back to work in a way that suits business.
Why not, for example, give us the money used to pay someone's benefits and let us hire that person? It would mean one less statistic for government, and one cheaper member of the workforce for us.