FORMER Thomas Cook staff in Scotland were thrown a lifeline after Hays Travel moved to buy the collapsed company’s stores.

Sunderland-based Hays agreed a deal for 555 Thomas Cook stores, which includes its Scottish estate, in a move that was welcomed by politicians, unions and workers.

Hays Travel, one of the UK’s largest independent travel agents, has said it hopes to save thousands of jobs. By close of business on Wednesday, it had already employed 597 members of Thomas Cook staff who lost their jobs last month.

The company now intends to reopen some shops as early as today, and potentially save up to 2,500 jobs in total.

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Husband and wife team Irene and John Hays, who own the travel agent, said the company burned the midnight oil to complete the signing of the deal to buy the shops at 11.53pm on Tuesday.

Mr Hays said: “We are elated to get the deal over the line. We are looking to employ as many Thomas Cook staff as possible and we are reaching out to them.

“It is a big, important decision. It will double our size. It is approximately £1 billion of sales from these 555 branches that we’re taking.

“We obviously did a very careful analysis and we went very promptly to the Civil Aviation Authority, our regulator, to run our plans past them and we are very confident that we can make a success of this.”

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Mrs Hays said: “We are determined to recruit as many of the talented people from Thomas Cook into the Hays family as quickly and efficiently as we possibly can. We had great admiration for the Thomas Cook brand.”

Mr Hays confirmed the Thomas Cook brand would not continue on the high street as its shops are rebranded with the Hays name.

The company will consider the future of under-performing shops in places where Hays and Thomas Cook sites overlap. It has already approached around 140 landlords but the deal guarantees landlords will get paid until the end of December.

The 178-year-old Thomas Cook folded on September 23 after failing to secure a last-minute rescue deal.

The news left around 150,000 passengers stranded abroad, the last of whom were returned to the UK on Monday.

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Jim Tucker, a KPMG partner who was appointed joint special manager of Thomas Cook’s retail division after the failure, said: “This is an extremely positive outcome, and we are delighted to have secured this agreement.

“It provides re-employment opportunities for a significant number of former Thomas Cook employees, and secures the future of retail sites up and down the UK high street.”

Mr Tucker said the administrators would work with Hays to “ensure a smooth transition of the store estate”.

He added: “We are pleased to have achieved this in a short timeframe and in the context of a complex liquidation process, which is testament to a lot of hard work from a number of parties.”

Andrea Leadsom, UK Business Secretary, said: “I welcome the news that Hays Travel will be purchasing Thomas Cook’s real estate, and hope this will provide significant re-employment opportunities for former Thomas Cook employees, alongside the advice and support we will continue to provide to help people find a new job as quickly as possible.”

Hays was founded in County Durham 40 years ago and reached £1 billion in sales last year. It has 190 shops and 1,900 employees. Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA union, said he was seeking an urgent meeting with Hays to figure out how the union can help with the “significant expansion”.