Perth jobs concern after energy firm plans to cut quarter of workforce

Unions say they will oppose the job cuts and criticise the UK Government for 'doing nothing' to tackle the energy crisis.

Perth jobs concern after energy firm plans to cut quarter of workforce SNS Group
Energy supplier Ovo bought SSE's retail divison for £500m in 2020.

Workers in Perth face an uncertain future after Ovo Energy announced plans to cut a quarter of its workforce.

The firm, which took over the retail base of energy giant Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) in 2020, said on Thursday that some 1700 jobs would be lost.

It plans to reduce the number of UK offices it has from ten to three, including a base at Inveralmond in Perth.

Offices in Edinburgh, Cumbernauld and Dunfermline are also affected.

Unions said they will oppose the job cuts, and criticised the UK Government for “doing nothing” to tackle the energy crisis.

The cuts represent a quarter of the number of employees at Ovo, which has around 4.5 million customers.

Pete Wishart, MP for Perth and North Perthshire, said the job losses would have a “massive impact on the labour market in Perth”.

He said: “I know that energy firms are operating in a very challenging commercial environment just now, but we cannot forget the number of commitments that Ovo made to Perth and to the former SSE workforce when they took over at Inveralmond.

“I am, therefore, very disappointed that instead of developing the Perth plant as they suggested they would it is to be closed down instead.

“We are still trying to determine how many jobs will be lost, and where I understand that a voluntary redundancy package is to be offered, it remains to be seen whether job losses on this scale can be undertaken without compulsory redundancies emerging down the line.

“I am seeking a meeting with Ovo and I hope to get clear answers as to what exactly has gone wrong.”

Around 1000 call centre staff will be trained to become zero-carbon living advisers, with specialist knowledge of green home products and technologies from tariffs to making homes more energy efficient.

The three remaining offices will be in Bristol, Glasgow and London, while more employees will be supported to work flexibly from home should they wish.

The company had to apologise earlier this week after an email sent to customers advised them to keep their heating bills low by “having a cuddle with your pets” or eating bowls of porridge.

The Unite union said it warned in 2020 that Ovo was taking a risk when it took over SSE’s retail base.

General secretary Sharon Graham said: “We will do everything in our power to defend our members’ jobs.

“All and every option will be on the table. As a first step the company must now open the books to union experts. We will not sit by and watch our members being made to pay the price of the pandemic.”

Unite national officer for energy Simon Coop added: “We warned the directors about blundering into the SSE takeover.

“In recent years the same directors have plundered the accounts for amounts estimated to be touching £5m.

“Ovo must be subject to severe scrutiny before the union decides on our next moves, but if they move to compulsory redundancies they will be fully opposed by the union.”

Ovo said it is also increasing its minimum wage by 15% to £12 an hour, giving a pay rise for 1000 employees.

The company added it will reverse the policy of offshoring from the previous owner and create more high-skilled jobs in the UK, and open a new Ovo Academy in Glasgow.

But GMB national officer Gary Carter said: “This is a new year kick in the teeth for employees who have seen the company through Covid and faced increased call volumes and stress caused by the energy crisis.

“At a time when more than 20 energy companies have gone to the wall and customers are looking to other providers for their energy needs, this looks like the wrong time to cut jobs.

“Customer numbers are increasing in those companies left in the energy retail sector.

“The (UK) Government has stood back and done nothing to address the energy crisis and we are all paying the price.”

Sue Ferns of the Prospect union said: “These job losses are a further result of the crisis in energy retail.

“The Government needs to urgently look at wholesale reform of the energy retail market, including bringing it under local public control. Consumers and workers are paying the price for a system that simply does not work.

“We hope that Ovo is able to stick to its promise to limit losses to voluntary redundancy. Prospect will be working with the company to mitigate as far as possible the impact of this decision on our members.”