Rapid expansion of Britain's remotest call centre - based in the Western Isles - has created a jobs boom in the telecommunications sector.
Iomart, the global Internet services company have boosted their workforce in the Islands to 60 - ahead of schedule and just ten months after establishing their Stornoway Net Centre.
Their success is now providing spin-off benefits to other computer-services businesses. Lasair Information Systems Ltd., based in Balivanich in Benbecula have been awarded a pilot contract by Iomart for web-site creation and support. Five tele-workers are already employed servicing this contract and this number could rise to 20 within a year.
Lasair have recently been awarded a £30,000 development grant by Western Isles Enterprise (WIE) allowing them to equip and train new staff in advance of the Iomart contract. This complements further funding of £15,000 from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and £21,000 of privately-raised finance.
Since their establishment in 1995 Lasair have undertaken a wide variety of computer-related tasks including database creation and the computerisation of records in fields as diverse as the medical trade press in the United States and forensic information for the Metropolitan police.
Their staff are usually based in their own homes in the Western Isles and send their completed work down the line to the Balivanich office.
Company director Kathleen Turner said: "We're delighted to be taking part in this pilot project. The work, creating business web-sites will be challenging and varied - and also ideally suited to our style of operation with people able to work from home and download their contributions to our central computers."
Iomart customer services director Sarah Haran said: "We are pleased to be involved in this pilot scheme, creating even more employment. The Islands have a strong computer skills base, which is one of the major reasons Iomart decided to establish its Net centre in Stornoway. Given our experience to date we're sure this experiment will be a success. The creation of these five extra jobs, in addition to the 60 already on the payroll in Stornoway, is good news for the Western Isles."
Iomart themselves are one of the Islands' recent success stories. They moved into their purpose-built Stornoway offices only 10 months ago, establishing the most remote call centre in Britain. This £1.2 million project was supported by a £380,000 funding package from WIE who also built the advance office occupied by the company.
The company have just won contracts with two of the largest internet businesses in the UK, FreeServe and Virgin Net, to build and host business web-sites and it is elements of this work which will be sub-contracted to Lasair.
WIE chief executive Donnie Macaulay said: "These announcements are a double boost for the Western Isles, demonstrating our ability to maintain jobs in the IT sector, which are valuable at the moment when traditional industries such as fisheries, crofting and textiles are experiencing difficult circumstances."
"It also proves that this area can attract top-quality inward investment and provide them with the opportunities to develop further."