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Thomas Cook Group (Support for Staff and Customers)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 24th September 2019.

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Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

3. To ask the Scottish Government what support it will offer to staff and customers of Thomas Cook Group, in light of the company ceasing trading. (S5T-01797)

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

We are saddened by the collapse of Thomas Cook, which had a long history of providing many jobs across the United Kingdom and overseas, including around 640 in Scotland. We are working closely with the UK Government and the Civil Aviation Authority as the situation progresses. The CAA is leading the biggest peacetime repatriation operation, with more than 150,000 travellers returning from Europe, north Africa, North America and the Caribbean over the next two weeks.

We understand that there were 63 Thomas Cook shops in Scotland, with an estimated 390 employees, as well as around 250 staff who were based at Glasgow airport. Additionally, there are Scottish businesses in the Thomas Cook supply chain that will be affected. This will be a very worrying time for employees and their families. We have already made the offer of support for affected employees in Scotland through our partnership action for continuing employment initiative.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

As the cabinet secretary said, there were a number of Thomas Cook shops in Scotland, including in my constituency in Glasgow. Yesterday, I visited the shop in Gordon Street in my constituency. It was closed, there was no notice up, and people outside were wondering what was going to happen. I take on board what the cabinet secretary said about help, but people are looking for practical help just now. What practical help can the Scottish Government give to the former employees, who do not even know whether they will get any redundancy money?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I recognise the concerns that Sandra White has raised on behalf of her constituents. As I outlined in my initial answer, PACE is the primary approach that we use to provide offers of support to staff who are affected by incidents of this nature.

We have also been in contact with one of the special managers from KPMG who have been appointed, and they will provide information to all affected staff on how they should make a claim to the Insolvency Service for any wages or other moneys that may be owed to them. The Insolvency Service will be responsible for pursuing that on behalf of former employees of Thomas Cook.

KPMG will include a copy of our PACE “Facing Redundancy?” guide, which contains our PACE helpline number and website details. The guide will be forwarded to all former employees that KPMG has a record of in order to provide them with that information.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

That seems helpful with regard to the employees—and the customers as well, I presume. However, the cabinet secretary mentioned in his first answer that other agencies are involved, too, and one of those is Caledonian Travel, which I also visited yesterday. It supplies coach tours for visitors who come over to Scotland. It is not just about Thomas Cook itself; there are other agencies, so there will be a wider effect on the economy, not just in Glasgow but across Scotland. The staff of agencies may lose their jobs, and agencies may fall. Will those people be able to get the same help that the cabinet secretary has recommended for the staff of Thomas Cook? Where can we direct those people to so that they can get help?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I am aware of the concern about the impact that the collapse of Thomas Cook could have on some of its supply chain. The member mentioned Caledonian Travel. Webhelp, which is based in Larbert in my constituency, will also be affected by Thomas Cook going into receivership, as it provided a contact centre for the company’s customers.

I assure the member that our agencies, through Scottish Enterprise, have set up a helpline to provide a point of contact for companies in the supply chain that may be affected by the Thomas Cook situation. It has a team of specialists who can provide financial advice and wider support, including access to PACE arrangements if that is necessary and appropriate. Scottish Enterprise has put the helpline in place to support those companies that may be affected by the decision as a result of the impact that it will have on the wider supply chain.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I thank the cabinet secretary for his considerate response. The BBC reported that a woman from Glasgow was booking a replacement flight to Rhodes and the price rose from £280 to £1,000 the day after. Airline companies says that it is due to an algorithm, which could be the case, but will the cabinet secretary condemn airlines that might be seeking to take advantage of families who are in a tragic situation, trying to replace their plans for holidays and weddings?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Algorithm or not, it is appalling that any airline should be seeking to exploit individuals in such difficult circumstances. I ask all airlines to consider their actions in the coming weeks for who those who have been adversely impacted by the demise of Thomas Cook. It is not an opportunity to make an extra couple of pounds out of people who are in a difficult situation; it is a time to help those individuals to restore their holiday hopes and plans, rather than trying to take more money from them. I call on all airlines to show consideration for those who have been affected by the demise of Thomas Cook and to offer them support and help, rather than trying to take further money off them.