LONDON Electricity has proved that the capital's loss is Wearside's gain over the last five years.

Since establishing its customer care centre at Doxford International Business Park in 1995, with just 50 employees answering two million calls a year, it has grown to employ more than 900 staff, answering a staggering 17 million customer queries a year.

The centre is now regarded as one of the leading customer operations centres of its kind in the UK.

John Davies, customer services manager for the company, said: "By taking our staff numbers to over 900 we have reaffirmed that we have the right location, staff and support systems to succeed in today's competitive energy market.

"When we started we had just 50 staff, who had to go to our base in Exeter to be trained. Now the Doxford staff go to our other operations, training their employees. When we first came to the North-East our initial target was to employ 450 people. We have doubled that, putting more than £20m back into the local economy as a result."

Mr Davies prides London Electricity on being one of the first call centre operations to move into the region, and the call centre staff at London Electricity's don't just answer the phone. They are fully involved with a range of administrative tasks.

"Only a third of the work is actual call handing, the other two thirds is administration and work on developing a better call centre service," he added.

"We offer a 24-hour, seven days a week service, although most of our calls are actually received between 7am and 8pm."

Some calls can be monitored, and sometimes Mr Davies is the man doing the monitoring.

"I have a headset that plugs into the operators desk, so I can hear what is being said. We pride ourselves on the quality of service rather than the quantity of calls being answered."

There is still strong growth in the call centre market and London Electricity is already planning to make the most of the opportunities.

There could be a time when the workers at London Electricity are contracted out to work for other companies wanting similar operations.

London Electricity is now the fourth biggest operator in the energy sector. Centrica, the former British Gas, is still top, and Mr Davies puts that position down to the people it employs.

"The people who work here do so because they want to help other people," he said.

"They get a buzz from that. Our operators are happy because they make the customer happy. As a reward they get decent working conditions which include things like a staff restaurant and a gym."

He added: "Despite the fact that there is so much competition in the call centre market, our staff turnover is very low. There is room for progression, shown by the fact that just four people left the company in October and November. Most people get the opportunity to move up the career ladder, if they show the correct attitude.