TRADERS in South Shields town centre are remaining positive despite the loss of more than 600 jobs to the borough.
Utilitywise, which employs 640 employees at Long Row, Market Dock, South Shields, confirmed on Friday that it is transferring staff to larger premises at Cobalt Business Park in North Tyneside from this summer.
The firm’s boss, Geoff Thompson, admitted to having a “heavy heart” over the decision – while thanking the borough council for its support.
The aim now is to increase its current workforce of 800 to 1,400 by 2016.
The departure of one of the fastest-growing companies in the region is undoubtedly a blow to South Tyneside’s economy.
Utilitywise’s move to North Tyneside follows on from Marks & Spencer’s moving to Silverlink in Wallsend.
But traders in the town, although regretful at the loss of a major business, say they are not too fearful of its impact.
They say very few Utilitywise staff bolstered the local economy by spending cash in the town centre because of the firm’s distance from the heart of the town and the shift patterns at Long Row.
Ewen Murray, co-owner of Aldermans café in the Market Place, said: “We’ve had one or two of the staff in but very few to really affect business.
“I have concerns about the state of the town centre, but the loss of the Utilitywise staff will not have a major impact on footfall. They have their own in-house restaurant, so they don’t need to come into town for food. It would be different if BT staff left. They’re more often in the town.”
It was a view shared by Joe Mooney, licensee at The Steamboat pub on the Mill Dam, South Shields.
He said: “They eat at the work restaurant. They’re not allowed to drink at lunchtime and they are all on different work patterns.
“We didn’t get the staff in here so it won’t have an impact on us.”
Geoff Thompson, Utilitywise’s borough born and bred chief executive officer, believes the decision is in the long-term interest of the company, which helps businesses get more value out of their energy and water contracts,
And he too believes the impact on footfall into the town will be limited.
He said: “Our staff get a half-hour lunch break and there’s an on-site restaurant. They predominantly remain on site.
“I’m not going to spin a story to say our leaving will have no impact on South Tyneside. About 100 people, 17 per cent of our workforce, live in South Tyneside.
“Ours is a success story and we should celebrate that.”