Peterborough business chief confident Thomas Cook staff will find new city jobs as he criticises firm’s ‘outdated’ business model

A leading business figure in Peterborough says he is confident Thomas Cook staff will be able to find new jobs in the city as he criticised the collapsed travel firm’s ‘outdated’ business model.

Monday, 23rd September 2019, 2:07 pm
Katie O' Mara (left) and Maddison Millar (centre) talk to a government member of staff in front of empty Thomas Cook check-in desks at Gatwick Airport in Sussex. Photo: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

The city-based firm revealed this morning it had gone bust, leaving more than 1,000 employees in Peterborough without a job.

Its collapse and the cancellation of all its flights has sparked the launch by the Government and the Civil Aviation Authority of the largest repatriation in peacetime history, which has been codenamed Operation Matterhorn.

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Katie O' Mara (left) and Maddison Millar (centre) talk to a government member of staff in front of empty Thomas Cook check-in desks at Gatwick Airport in Sussex. Photo: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

Reacting to the news John Bridge, chief executive of the Peterborough Chamber of Commerce, said: “It’s really challenging for everybody. I have to say our thoughts are with those affected, particularly those that have lost their jobs.

“As we’ve seen with many other companies the top management have not been quick enough to understand the changing nature of customer requirements.

“The real problem with Thomas Cook is it was caught up in the retail challenge where people don’t go into the shops in the same way. It had significant overheads with people and properties which others in that industry don’t have.

“The challenge was how could they have put a strategy in place. Clearly the funders did not think they had the right strategy to get out of the challenges they had met.

“I think, regretfully, it’s another example that in some companies people are not quick enough to understand how they need to change to provide what customers want.

“Peterborough has a very resilient economy, one people continue to invest in. They key thing we have to do is assimilate those affected from a jobs perspective to get other employment.

“In the next few years, regardless of the outcome of Brexit, I’m pretty confident we will be able to assimilate them.”

Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough James Palmer said: “This is dreadful news for all concerned and my first thoughts are with the Thomas Cook employees based in Peterborough and elsewhere.

“This is clearly a developing situation and the immediate impacts of all those affected are continuing to be assessed.

“I have been in conversations this morning with the Government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to establish how, as far as possible, the impacts can be minimised.

“I have been assured the Government is fully committed to supporting employees affected by the collapse and also I’m aware that Government is providing employees with advice on the situation this morning.

“I will be working to support a cross-Government taskforce, including the DWP and BEIS, to provide any support I can at this very worrying time. I am in regular contact with Government on this, and what’s important now is that we can offer support and clarity to those affected as rapidly as possible.”

North West Cambridgeshire MP Shailesh Vara, who constituency Thomas Cook’s headquarters in Lynch Wood is in, said: “Today is a very sad day with the collapse of an iconic UK company that has been trading for 178 years as well as the threat to 9,000 UK jobs of which 1,200 are in my constituency where the company’s headquarters are based.

“I will be doing all that I can to assist those affected.

“In the meantime, having spoken with Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, and Andrea Leadsom, the Business Secretary, I am assured that detailed preparations are in place to ensure the safe return of the 160,000 holidaymakers who are currently abroad.”

MP for Peterborough Lisa Forbes said: “I was deeply disappointed to have woken up to the news today that Thomas Cook has collapsed after last-ditch rescue talks failed.

“Peterborough has been the home to this iconic British business for decades and my thoughts are with the 1,000 employees and their families who have faced uncertainty over their future for months now.

“Employees from their Peterborough HQ contacted me over the weekend to ask why government is standing idly by.

“Several of them noted that the company required £200 million, yet the costs of repatriation could now reach up to £600 million.

“This is without factoring in the lost jobs, cost to our local economy and further deterioration of our high streets.

“It is my opinion that the Government had a responsibility to employees here in Peterborough to help stabilise the situation in the short-term and give Thomas Cook the breathing space it needed to continue operating.

“It would have been cheaper than the Government’s current repatriation plans, saving the taxpayer millions of pounds as well as thousands of jobs. These aren’t just my words but the words of Thomas Cook employees and union leaders.

“Moving forwards, I have written to the Business and Transport Secretaries demanding an urgent meeting and assurances that the Government will do all it can to protect jobs here in Peterborough.

“The impact it will have on our local economy and community must be minimised. The Government must urgently provide a cast-iron commitment to this. After their failure to act in saving Thomas Cook, it’s the very least they should be doing.

“All Thomas Cook employees wanted to do today was go to work. Instead, this 178-year-old staple of our high streets has been left to wither by a government who had the opportunity to show real leadership, but refused to.”