London, July 5: ICICI Bank will create hundreds of new jobs in the once-troubled province of Northern Ireland, the UK’s equivalent of Kashmir.
The bank’s IT wing, ICICI OneSource, is to take on 1,000 staff, 600 of whom will be located in Londonderry (also known as Derry), a city once synonymous with bombs and bullets.
The centre will open later this year and recruitment will be staggered over two years.
ICICI’s plans will deflect some of the criticism levelled against British companies that have off-shored thousands of jobs to India in recent years. But Indian ministers have pointed out that inward Indian investment in the UK now exceeds new British investment in India.
ICICI has already announced it is setting up a centre in Belfast, where once the Europa Hotel, home to generations of journalists, used to replace bomb-shattered windows almost on a weekly basis.
The bank will use Northern Ireland to handle calls and administration for clients in financial services, telecommunications and healthcare.
Its arrival in the province was announced by Peter Hain, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, last month just weeks after he returned from leading a trade mission to India where he spoke to ICICI bosses.
Leslie Morrison, the chief executive of the economic body supplying some funding for the project, Invest Northern Ireland, said he was delighted Londonderry had been confirmed as the second location.
He said: “Invest NI is committed to helping ICICI OneSource fully develop its business potential in Northern Ireland and, with our support, the Belfast and Derry operations will deliver over '28 million of wages and salaries by 2008 into the local economy.”
Matthew Vallance, the managing director of ICICI in Europe, said Londonderry had a lot to offer the company. “We have been impressed with the quality of the workforce, the enthusiasm of the local community and the interest they have shown in our company. Our new Londonderry facility will provide us with a solid foundation to support our long-term growth plans.”
Local Assembly member and Sinn Fein economic spokesman Mitchel McLaughlin said the boost for his city was welcome news, given the amount of jobs lost in the recent past.
McLaughlin said: “These jobs, which are believed to be at the higher end of the call centre market, will boost the local economy and create new confidence in this sector. Derry has the office space to attract this type of business to situate in the city and with a high pool of readily available labour I am sure that this project will be a success.”
Relations between the British and the Irish remain troubled by history at one level. Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes The Barley, a film which won the Palm d’Or at Cannes, has opened in the UK with a derisory 42 prints because the director is accused by many British commentators of being too sympathetic to the Irish Republican Army. The film is set in Ireland in 1920 and shows the occupying British army at its British worst.
It is some of these subtler undercurrents which explain why ICICI’s investment in Northern Ireland is so unexpected and welcome.