It has taken the managing director of the failed Christmas hamper company Farepak eight weeks to issue any kind of statement.
For that reason alone, his apology to the thousands of people likely to lose money following the collapse will have a rather hollow ring about it. But the fact that he uses his first public utterances to point the finger of blame at Farepak’s bankers will rankle even more.
As the government’s consumer minister Ian McCartney attempts to rally support and generate donations for a fund for those who have seen their savings completely wiped out, Farepak’s hierarchy and the bank HBOS have become locked in an unseemly war of words about who is responsible. At this particular moment, such a squabble is irrelevant and hopefully the truth of what happened to precipitate the calamitous failure of a seemingly well-established operation will eventually be made public (http://business.guardian.co.uk/story/0,,1947200,00.html).
In the meantime, however, surely the priority should be to offer support to those who can ill-afford to lose such hard to come by money?
Farepak’s customers are a largely silent and ignored minority. These are people who struggle each year to save a few hundred pounds to provide a few examples of what has become accepted as the trappings of a “traditional” Christmas – the food or vouchers they receive in return for their money go towards trying to replicate the soft focus, silky voiced television commercials advertising the perfect, happiest festivities that have already started to be broadcast. For these people losing £400 is the type of disaster that few of us will, hopefully, ever experience.
Little wonder that many of the companies associated with Farepak, either through the voucher scheme or which are likely to attract the savers, are now being urged to contribute to the government-backed fund. Such companies do not have a legal obligation to make up the savings shortfall, but the argument is that they do have a moral duty to provide whatever support they can. To their credit many have dipped a hand into their large pockets – HBOS themselves have donated £4.5m, while the likes of Tesco and Argos have also made contributions.
The savers are bottom of a long list of creditors. If anything substantial can be salvaged, which seems unlikely, then they will be lucky to receive the odd penny or two in the pound – a drop in a vast ocean.
The fund will help, but it is unlikely to reach anywhere near the estimated £40 million in lost savings unless we see a few more very sizable donations.
There is still time before the fund closes, but the finger pointing and blame game now being waged will only deflect attention from what should be the main priority.
The apology from Farepak’s MD is long overdue and welcome. But it is also too little too late as far as thousands of the company’s former customers are concerned.