Open Letter to the Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston MP

Please find below an Open Letter to the Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston MP from the CEO of St.Helens R.F.C. sent today. The letter outlines specific and profound challenges faced by St.Helens R.F.C. – the largest employer in Rugby League.

St.Helens R.F.C. are reigning Super League champions. We’re proud of that.

We are one of the oldest Rugby League clubs in the country; a local business that has worked hard to ensure that we are well managed, well run and operate as a caring, responsible employer. And we’re just as proud of this.

We are a major employer in St Helens. In fact – St Helens Rugby League Club is the biggest employer in Rugby League. We are now managing job losses in our club family – some of which could have been avoided with clearer, consistent, and timely decision making by policy makers – and which will have a profound impact on our town.

The reality of the inconsistency of Government decision making has serious consequences.

We are closed. Closed to events, parties, conferences, lunches and dinners. St.Helens R.F.C. has now lost over £1m in non-match day ‘hospitality and events’ revenue. This is non-recoverable and is growing materially every day.

The club has accessed CJRS (‘furlough’) relief where possible and this is welcomed, as it has been at businesses nationwide. The club has already submitted a loan application to Government.

However, as a club which built its own stadium, runs it properly and employs its people directly – we have been prevented from further accessing support that would have been available if the business was structured differently. Whilst navigating the reliefs and mitigations is complicated, the result of this is straightforward – it is the heartbreak of local people losing their jobs.

Despite the fact that the stadium is closed to all but the hosting of behind closed doors games, our business cannot access the ‘Closed’ Job Support Scheme (JSS). Yet we are a hospitality business.

Due to the fact that we employ all who work here – specifically our catering colleagues – we have been unable to access business reliefs which are available to outsourced hospitality services. Perversely, we are being discriminated against due to our investment into our business and into our local people. Despite employing scores of local people in catering, events, bar and other hospitality roles – and selling thousands of meals and drinks in an ordinary year – we cannot be classed as a hospitality business. Hospitality businesses have job protection and can access 15% VAT relief. By employing everyone at St.Helens R.F.C. our corporate structure now results in huge disadvantage. And ultimately the loss of more local jobs than may have otherwise been the case.

The new Job Support Scheme was announced three weeks ago. However, there is considerable inconsistency in what has been delivered for ‘Open’ JSS last week and what formed that initial announcement. In that intervening period as we awaited details (which we now find are quite different from that initial information), we took decisions which impact on people’s employment and livelihoods.

Stability and rational decision making are required by all – and this includes policy makers. Businesses simply cannot do the best thing by their employees when given little or no notice of fundamental changes. This is not abstract. This is real people losing their employment through no fault of their own, in a town where jobs are extremely difficult to find and mental health and other health inequalities are some of the most challenging in the country. It is extremely serious and as a club we are heart broken.

The club appreciates the continued support of local MP’s – Marie Rimmer MP and Conor McGinn MP. Whilst we are grateful that the club will receive a grant via St Helens Council from the Liverpool City Region Business Recovery Fund, that is dwarfed by the size of the challenge we face to protect our hospitality colleagues’ roles.

The Chancellor has said ‘we cannot save every job’. Sadly, we all know that is probably right. But where a good employer is fighting tooth and nail to save them and jobs are being lost due to inflexibility, inconsistent categorisation of businesses, and last-minute changes in Government schemes – we have to speak out. Lives and livelihoods are literally at stake.

Kind Regards

Mike Rush
Chief Executive
St.Helens R.F.C.

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