Energy Direct office closes

By Laurel Stowell

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The window of the former Energy Direct office has this sign. PHOTO/ STUART MUNRO
The window of the former Energy Direct office has this sign. PHOTO/ STUART MUNRO

The Energy Direct office in Whanganui's St Hill St has closed, with the loss of 30 jobs.

It's sad to see it go, Whanganui Mayor Hamish McDouall said. But he understands some of the staff, mainly call centre workers, have other jobs already.

Energy Direct was a small energy business, supplying electricity and gas to people in Whanganui and other areas. It was owned by Whanganui District Council and got consistently high ratings for its customer service.

Mr McDouall said owning an energy company was "an extraordinary risk" for the council. The company risked going out of business and closing in debt.

In 2013 councillors were unanimous in agreeing it should be sold to bigger energy company Trustpower, for $16.5 million.

The sale was good for ratepayers, but has resulted in Energy Direct staff losing their jobs. Trustpower agreed to keep the office open for two years, and actually kept it open longer than that.

But the electricity market has been competitive, Trustpower retail business general manager Chris O'Hara said. Small businesses have had to amalgamate with larger ones, and Energy Direct became part of Trustpower.

He recognised the hard work and commitment of the Energy Direct team.

"They have ranked in the top three in the Consumer annual Energy Provider Customer Satisfaction Survey for over five years in a row and have been the highest ranked combined power and gas provider for six years running," he said in July.

Trustpower chief executive Vince Hawksworth said staff helped the closure process in a professional and committed way. The company, in its turn, had tried to make it as painless as possible.

About four staff members were still working for it, including three that had left Whanganui for the jobs.

All got the full redundancy entitlements under their contracts.

While the closure was sad, experienced call centre staff could be just what is needed in future, Mr McDouall said. He's anticipating that government and private sector offices will have to move from earthquake-stricken Wellington to places like Whanganui in the near future.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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