NEWPORT is competing head-to-head with Swan-sea for an Inland Revenue call centre which would bring up to 600 jobs to the area.

This news emerged as backers of the £400 million Welsh call centre industry converged on the Celtic Manor yesterday to debate the threat posed by international competitors.

The industry is worried about high-profile relocations to India by a host of companies such as HSBC and British Airways.

First Minister Rhodri Morgan opened the conference with the good news that a report by Incomes Data Services found that Wales has the lowest call centre staff turnover in mainland Britain.

At 18 per cent, Welsh staff turnover is just half that of India's and Sandra Busby, director of the Call Centre Initiative, believes this statistic can be used to fight the threat from the subcontinent.

She said: "This is a real achievement for Wales and demonstrates the value that can be achieved by locating contact centres here.

"The reduced cost of head count maintenance translates into low overall operating costs for employers, and combined with our low property costs, advanced infrastructure and highly skilled workforce it makes Wales difficult to beat as an investment proposition."

Around 24,000 Welsh people are employed in call centres, and the vast majority of those (19,000) are located in South-East Wales.

The most vulnerable jobs are those which have been outsourced to independent operators.

Companies that run their own call centres are more likely to stay put as they consider other values such as quality of service and the good public relations which accrue from keeping faith with the UK.