Independent travel agent Hays Travel has said it will buy 555 stores from Thomas Cook after the holiday company’s dramatic collapse late last month.

The deal will boost the high street presence of Hays – already the UK's largest independent travel group – and offer salvation for at least some of the store staff who found themselves out of work after Thomas Cook’s abrupt demise.

At the time it ceased trading – after bosses failed to secure a rescue package from creditors – Thomas Cook operated around 600 UK high street stores.

The offer from Hays Travel will save the overwhelming majority of the store portfolio, which includes shops in Kendal, Ulverston, Barrow, Workington, Whitehaven, Carlisle and Penrith – all of which are currently closed.

Hays has already recruited 421 former Thomas Cook staff and has offered employment to more of the airline's personnel.

All 150,000 Thomas Cook passengers who were stuck abroad have been returned to the UK, in what was said to be the country’s biggest peacetime repatriation.

David Chapman, the official receiver of Thomas Cook, said: “This represents an important step in the liquidation process, as we seek to realise the company's assets.

John and Irene Hays, managing director and group chair of Hays Travel, added: "Thomas Cook was a much-loved brand employing talented people. We look forward to working with many of them."

The demise of the 178-year-old firm has led to kind gestures of practical and emotion support for staff in Cumbria.

Nationally, the Government has been criticised for “shutting the door after horse has bolted – yet again” by ordering a probe into the collapse of Thomas Cook.

Business secretary Andrea Leadsom has asked the official receiver, which oversees liquidations, to undertake a “fast-paced” review into the collapse of the tour operator and whether the actions of bosses at Thomas Cook “caused detriment to creditors or to the pension schemes”.

However, the Unite union accused the Government for doing “too little, too late” and for having failed to learn the lessons from the collapse of Carillion.