Skipton company HML, which employs 650 people in the town, has given British workers a vote of confidence by deciding to open a call centre in Londonderry.

It has decided not to follow the trend for setting up call centres and administration centres in low cost countries like India and instead will create 400 jobs in Ulster.

HML, started in 1988, is a subsidiary of Skipton Building Society, but will now employ more people than its parent organisation.

Based in Providence Place, behind Skipton High Street, the firm has 900 people working in Skipton and Padiham administering mortgages for companies such as Scottish Widows and Bradford and Bingley.

Once a mortgage has been sold, it is HML which services it, sending out statements, processing payments, chasing defaulters and answering queries.

Steve Haggerty, HML managing director, said he understood why other companies had exported jobs to India, but felt that for many people there was "negativity" if the person on the other end of a telephone did not have a full understanding of the British mortgage industry.

"It's fine dealing with a quick one-off quote lasting 30 seconds, but our average call takes eight minutes and invariably covers things like redemption penalties, deeds, equity, insurance, excess payments," said Mr Haggerty.

"While it might be a well educated workforce in India, they do not have the concept of a two bedroom semi with a flying freehold."

HML's growth has been spectacular and has had to set up new centres outside of Skipton simply because it cannot find sufficient workers in the area.

It opened its site in Padiham last year and its call centre expects to be functioning in Londonderry by June with back office functions following on.

But Mr Haggerty said HML's base would always be in Skipton.

"In 2003 we hired 543 staff, that's 10 a week, so we are an important part of the local economy," he said. "Skipton has been good for HML and we will continue to be a major employer in the town."

Last year HML grew by 83 per cent and in the last four years has expanded by 400 per cent. It contributed £9 million to Skipton Building Society profits last year.

Mr Haggerty said HML had chosen to move to Ulster because it had a highly educated and talented labour force, which understood the mortgage environment. There was a modern building to move into and lucrative development grants.

He dismissed fears about political instability in what was once a troubled province, pointing out that the mayor of Derry, who attended a press conference this week to announce the deal, represented Sinn Fein and that HML was confident that no-one in the province would step back into the dark days of sectarian violence.

HML has another incentive to move to Northern Ireland. It has ambitions of moving into the European market of mortgage administration and has its eyes on earning business in the eurozone starting with the Republic of Ireland, where no outsourcing of mortgage administration currently exists.