A union representing some Thomas Cook staff claims to have uncovered evidence of “disarray” among government in the lead up to the operator’s collapse.
A series of freedom of information (FOI) requests made by Unite suggests two government departments failed to examine alternative solutions prior to the collapse of Thomas Cook in September last year.
As a result, Unite is now calling for action “to ensure greater openness”.
Unite asked the same FOI questions of both the Department of Business Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Department for Transport (DfT), and received “different and conflicting answers”.
When asked when BEIS became aware of financial problems at Thomas Cook the department said: “As the lead department for Thomas Cook, DfT officially notified BEIS about financial problems at Thomas Cook on 11 September 2019.
“At the point DfT made us aware of the imminent collapse of Thomas Cook in September, BEIS became part of the cross-government handling of the issue.”
In response to further questions about when BEIS began to examine measures to help support the company and a question about when it began to take measures to deal with the collapse of the company and repatriate passengers, Unite reports it said: “BEIS participated in discussions with DfT and other government departments about ways to respond to the potential insolvency of Thomas Cook from 11 September 2019.”
However the responses from the DfT were different. It said it became aware of problems at Thomas Cook “ahead of the publication of its year-end financial results in November 2018”.
When asked when the DfT began examining measures to help support the company, Unite said it replied: “Thomas Cook’s directors wrote to the government on 18 September 2019 to request financial assistance of up to £250 million. Given the financial issues the group faced, this would have been poor use of taxpayer’s money and would not have guaranteed that the group would have remained solvent.”
The DfT’s answer to the question of when it began examining measures to deal with the collapse of the company and the repatriation of its customers, was, Unite said: “The department began examining contingency planning options for the eventual collapse of Thomas Cook in April 2019.
“An initial meeting was convened on 5 April 2019 which was attended by representatives from the CAA, BEIS, Her Majesty’s Treasury (HMT) and UK Government Investments (UKGI).”
Unite said the failure to assist the Thomas Cook airline is why it is calling for the government to implement the Airline Insolvency Review and the Insolvency and Corporate Governance Review “at the earliest possible opportunity”.
Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: “Given such an inadequate, muddled and confused response it is little surprise that the government was unable or unwilling to prevent Thomas Cook collapsing into liquidation. The left hand literally didn’t know what the right hand was doing.
“That is why Unite is calling for greater transparency and the right for workers’ and trade unions to be informed and have a voice at the table.
“The fact that the DfT allowed a profitable airline to collapse without any effort to keep it flying and preserve jobs demonstrates why we need new laws to prevent further needless airline collapses as soon as is humanly possible.
“The real victims of the government’s incompetence are the dedicated staff who lost their jobs and the hundreds of thousands of people who had their hard-earned holidays ruined, delayed or disrupted.
“The BEIS select committee began examining the collapse of Thomas Cook prior to the general election and that good work must be continued and extended to the transport select committee, so the full truth behind this sorry mess is not only exposed, but action taken to prevent it ever happening again.”