Thomas Cook stores at risk

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Around 2,500 jobs are to be axed at holidays group Thomas Cook, which has four shops in the north of the county, after it revealed plans to close 195 of its high street travel agencies.

The job losses, which would be 16 per cent of its 15,500 workforce, will affect workers across its retail network as well as administration and back-office staff.

Thomas Cook said the moves were being made as part of a restructuring and to slash administration costs.

Having recently shut 149 stores, Thomas Cook will be left with 874 travel agencies across the UK and Northern Ireland.

It will confirm which stores are due to be closed later this week – Thomas Cook has stores in Swans Lane, Wellingborough; Lower Street, Kettering; High Street, Rushden, and Corporation Street, Corby, as well as in Northampton.

Thomas Cook is also planning to shut its Accrington office in the North West in a move impacting about 100 roles.

Administrative and managerial jobs are also at risk across its head office in Peterborough and its Preston site.

Thomas Cook also has offices in Egham in Surrey, Brighton, and Birkenshaw in West Yorkshire.

The Transport Salaried Staffs Association, which represents employees, said it was “shocked and angry” at the scale of the job losses.

General secretary Manuel Cortes said: “This constant policy of slash and burn, with the axing of one in four stores and the loss of jobs, is simply self-defeating.

“The company needs new products if it to come to come to terms with the age of the internet and prosper in the 21st century.

“That is the only way to stop this spiral of decline which repeated bad management decisions over the past five years has led them.”

But Thomas Cook’s recently appointed UK and Ireland chief executive, Peter Fankhauser, said the proposals will help return the group to profitability.

Thomas Cook slumped to a £590 million loss in its last financial year and is working on plans to slash costs.

As well as shutting stores, the UK’s second-biggest travel company has trimmed its airline fleet and sold off hotels after it was forced to turn to its banks for an additional £200 million of loans in 2011.

Mr Fankhauser said: “Thomas Cook is a much-loved brand that needs to make the proposed changes to secure our future and provide continued employment for many thousands across the UK and better meet the needs of our customers going forward.”

“It is never easy to make decisions that impact directly on our people, but we also owe it to our customers to operate efficiently and ensure that when they book their holiday with us our administrative costs are as low as possible,” he added.

Thomas Cook insisted it would maintain a “strong presence on the high street”, adding that the stores being earmarked for closure did not meet performance targets or were in areas where the group has more than one retail outlet.

Many of the stores being closed are Co-operative Travel stores after Thomas Cook and Co-op merged their high street businesses in 2011.

Thomas Cook has already axed more than 1,100 jobs over the past year, including around 250 retail staff.

It also said today it planned to change staff terms and conditions for remaining workers.

Sharon Ainsworth, national officer of Usdaw, said: “Even those who are not at risk of redundancy are facing the prospect of cuts to their benefits packages, following a number of cost-cutting proposals which the business has put forward.

“We will be examining these proposals closely and will defend our members’ interests throughout this uncertain time.

“We will be doing all we can to support all of our members during the difficult weeks and months ahead.”

Thomas Cook’s group-wide boss Harriet Green, who joined the company as chief executive from electronics firm Premier Farnell last year, has been leading a turnaround plan at Thomas Cook.

She announced aims to cut a further £100 million in costs last November, with £40 million coming from its airline business and an extra £35 million being saved by stripping out “duplication” in its structure.