Should the Thomas Cook bosses pay back their bonuses?

People walk past the Thomas Cook store in Ipswich Town Centre Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

People walk past the Thomas Cook store in Ipswich Town Centre Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

As another British business bites the dust, regular, working people will once again pay the price

It's official. Another British business has gone bust.

This week, Thomas Cook went the same way as BHS and Woolworths, creating another vacuum in the struggling UK high street.

Chaos inevitably ensued, with thousands of holidaymakers still stranded abroad as the biggest ever peacetime repatriation gets underway.

All flights are grounded, 600 Thomas Cook stores have closed overnight and the company's 21,000 employees are suddenly out of a job.

The travel firm's fate has hung in the balance for some time now, with a mountainous debt pile threatening to bankrupt the company for many years.

Back in 2011, collapse was on the cards as profits dwindled and debts steadily mounted.

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A dramatic restructuring might have provided some short-term relief for the company, but now, eight years on, Thomas Cook has found itself unable to solve its problems, crippled by debt.

Why then, has the company been blessing its top executives with multi-million pound payouts?

According to The Daily Telegraph, Peter Fankhauser, the chief executive of Thomas Cook at the time of its collapse, took home a cool £8.3 million since taking over the firm in 2014, including an almighty £2.9m bonus in 2015.

Its chief financial officers have also enjoyed £7m between them since 2014, with a further £4m going to non-executive directors.

In total, the paper estimates that Thomas Cook executives were paid more than £20m over the last five years, receiving hefty bonuses and six-figure salaries as the debt pile grew and investors took flight.

These figures might be shocking, but they are hardly surprising.

Whenever a big business goes bust, the fat cats usually walk away, comfortable financially.

Think back to the collapse of BHS. In 2015, Sir Philip Green sold the retail chain to the serial bankrupt Dominic Chappell for just £1. A year later, the company had gone under, rendering 11,000 workers jobless.

The summer after the BHS collapse, Phillip Green spent the summer cruising around the Mediterranean on a new £100m yacht.

When a big company fails, it's not those at the top who end up going down with the ship.

Instead, it's those regular, working people who pay the price - those who work on the shop floor and wake up to suddenly find themselves unemployed, without the safety net of a million pound bonus to fall back on when times get tough.

As the Thomas Cook chaos continues, these generous payouts are rightly coming under scrutiny.

Labour's shadow chancellor John McDonnell has joined the voices calling on Thomas Cook executives to repay their bonuses, saying: "I think they need to really examine their own consciences about how they've brought this about and how they themselves have exploited the situation."

For now, people are justifiably angry. But as the story gets inevitably pushed out of the headlines and fades from our memories, we'll forget about the culture of greed that lets such situations arise.

That is, until the next big business collapse reminds us of that certain truth: fat cats always land on their feet.

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