Major business pledge to town

MAJOR players in the insurance sector today pledged a strong future for the industry in Ipswich, including jobs growth, despite Norwich Union's decision to cut jobs in the region.

MAJOR players in the insurance sector today pledged a strong future for the industry in Ipswich, including jobs growth, despite Norwich Union's decision to cut jobs in the region.

AXA, Willis and Norwich Union, which have a combined workforce of nearly 3,000 in Ipswich alone, have all pledged long-term commitments to the town.

AXA has announced a £12million project to refurbish its headquarters in Civic Drive and the adjoining Suffolk House, for which it has recently secured a new lease.

The company has revealed that the 12-month project will create more office space, which could accommodate an expansion to its workforce.

AXA head of customer services Malcolm Hollister said it represented a long-term investment in Ipswich by the company.

He said: "Our commitment to the area is one that we can see going forward.

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"There are some good signs. We've taken on some of the people who were made redundant from other companies in the Ipswich market.

"We genuinely are looking for people on a regular basis."

Willis has announced it is in the process of employing 40 new staff for its Global Operations activities in Ipswich.

The company already employs 1,330 in the town and says its Ipswich operations are in a strong position to grow.

Nick Jones of Willis said: "The Ipswich team is absolutely integral to the group and the group is doing extremely well.

"Ipswich is one of three centres for what we call our Global Operations, which include claims, accounting and other after-sales services.

"The other two are in Nashville and in Mumbai, India, and these should be seen as an integral service throughout the group on a worldwide basis to deliver best in class servicing."

Norwich Union's decision to create 950 jobs in India and Sri Lanka next year prompted fears from union Amicus that it could lead to the eventual closure of the company's Ipswich operations.

Aviva, which owns NU, said it expected no more than 150 compulsory redundancies to come from the announcement.

Most of the job losses are expected to come from offices in Norwich and York but up to 20 could come from other offices, possibly including those at Crown Street in Ipswich.

Amicus regional officer Mark Robinson said Ipswich suffered badly from job cuts announced by NU in December and could now be under threat of complete closure because Ipswich is a smaller centre than other sites.

But a spokeswoman for NU stressed its operations in Ipswich were a "key location" for the company and that there were no plans to change that.

She said: "Firstly it's our intermediary regional centre for East Anglia.

"Around 35 to 40 staff work in this area of the business and as it's our regional centre it is a key location for us.

"Secondly, Ipswich is also one of our Small Business Insurance (SBI) centres.

"About 100 staff work in this area of the business, providing customer service on policies sold through intermediaries and brokers. There are no plans in the foreseeable future to change this."

Weblinks: www.axa.co.uk, www.willis.co.uk, www.norwichunion.co.uk

What do you think can be done to attract more jobs to Ipswich? Write in to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

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