THE largest private employer in Tunbridge Wells is planning to relocate up to 150 jobs to Birmingham in what will be one of the largest mass lay-offs the town has experienced for several years.
AXA has confirmed it will be reviewing its motor claims operations at Century Place which is situated off Lamberts Road in the business park.
Consultation with its employees is underway, as the insurer seeks to reduce staff turnover by relocating many of the roles to Birmingham, where it has a similar motor division and where the employment pool is both deeper and wages are more competitive.
If all of the planned redundancies go ahead, it will mean just over half of the 296 employees in the Century Place office will be lost.
However, the company is keen to stress other divisions, such as AXA PPP – which makes up the majority of the firm’s business in the town – are not affected.
A spokesman for the insurer said: “AXA Insurance is consulting with the Union on behalf of its employee’s located in the Tunbridge Wells (Century Place) office on a proposal to consolidate all direct motor customer operations teams in its existing operation in Birmingham.
“There is a large, existing and well-established motor claims operation in Birmingham and it is proposed that consolidating these teams in one site will ensure that AXA is able to deliver a more consistent service to its customers.
“If adopted, this change would impact around 150 employees. It would not affect the other teams based in the same office nor employees of AXA’s healthcare business in Tunbridge Wells.”
The Times understands the insurer has been suffering from a high turnover of staff in its motor claims division and struggles to fill vacancies.
The high turnover is said to be particularly acute among handlers who deal with the more basic claims. It is thought these are the types of roles that will be moved to Birmingham where there is a bigger recruitment pool and the lower cost of living means the pay is more competitive.
Positions at Century Place that primarily deal with the more complex cases are not believed to the focus of the consultation as retention levels are much higher.
Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark, who was informed of the decision by AXA, said it was his understanding that the insurer’s proposal to consolidate all of its direct motor customer team in Birmingham is ‘purely an operational decision’.
Mr Clark said he had been assured this does not, ‘in any way’, signify a reduced commitment by AXA to the town.
He added: “The number of people employed by AXA in our town has grown by 250 since 2012 to a total of just under 2500.
“Despite this, for those affected it will be a worrying time and I have asked the company to ensure that if the move does go ahead, it will do everything it can to help people find alternative jobs.”
Councillor Jane March, Cabinet member with responsibility for Economic Development said: “I am very disappointed to hear there may be job losses in the town and understand how unsettling this will be for those whose jobs may be at risk.
“Unemployment rates remain low in Tunbridge Wells and from a jobs fair in the Assembly Hall Theatre I’m aware employers here are looking to recruit so I hope the impact of this on the individuals affected and the town will be minimal.”
Dominic Hook, Unite national officer said: “Unite has pressed AXA to ensure all impacted staff in Tunbridge Wells are offered alternative local employment within the AXA group and compulsory redundancies are avoided. The union will be working to support our members at the affected site over the coming days and weeks.”