Former Thomas Cook chief Peter Fankhauser was “confident” the company could be saved until a government official told him ministers would not step in to help.
Appearing before a select committee of MPs on Tuesday, Fankhauser revealed he met transport secretary Grant Shapps on September 9 “to update him on the [rescue] process” as Cook fought to complete a £1.6 billion rescue deal with its banks and bondholders and Chinese group Fosun.
Fankhauser subsequently met “a high [Department for Transport] official and the UK Government Investments unit” on September 16 and 17, he told MPs, saying: “We discussed with them, if all else fails, could we have a back-up.
“They asked for a formal proposal, which we gave on September 17. I got the feeling the official was positive, saying ‘We’ll try’.” He said: “We needed something strong because the business was on its knees. We got feedback it was under consideration. We were pretty confident.”
But he said the message he received from the government on Sunday, September 22, was that: “They did not want to create a precedent.”
Asked if he spoke to any ministers after September 9, Fankhauser said: “No. We had the feedback that it was on the table of ministers and Number 10.
We would have liked backing.
It didn’t happen.”
He added: “Throughout the process I had talks with the ministers of tourism in Spain, Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece.”
Former Cook chairman Frank Meysman added: “We were told other governments were trying to reach the UK government.”
Asked whether it would have been in taxpayer’s interests for ministers to secure Cook’s future, Meysman said: “I can only say we saw other governments make a different decision.”
MPs grilled Fankhauser over his salary.
“I don’t try to defend my pay in comparison to workers’ salary,” he told the Committee. “That is not my intention. What I can say is I worked exhaustively and extremely hard for my salary. I didn’t succeed and I said that I’m going to consider that [paying some back], but I’m not going to decide that today.”
He also told MPs he was “deeply sorry for the failure and the distress.”
Asked if Hays Travel could make a success of Cook’s shops, he said: “I wish they can. It was one of the brighter days last week when we had the news about Hays. If Hays can renegotiate the leases, it can for sure be successful.”