SAINTS have lost more than £1m in non-match day revenue during the coronavirus crisis and are facing the heartbreak of seeing local people lose their jobs.

In an open letter to the Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston MP, St Helens RFC chief executive Mike Rush today set out the club’s plight.

His letter outlined “specific and profound challenges" facing the club, who are believed to be the largest employer in British rugby league.

Of major concern is the hospitality side of the club’s business, which has had to shutdown due to the crisis.

READ> IN FULL: Mike Rush's open letter to Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston

Rush, who has been at Saints for more than 20 years, described the situation as “extremely serious” and that the impact has left the “club heartbroken”.

Since moving to the Totally Wicked Stadium, Saints’ off-field operations have grown considerably, with business conferences, weddings, birthday parties and other functions regularly taking place there.

Rush says losses from not hosting the events stand at more than £1million and are growing everyday.

The club, which has used the Government's furlough scheme, has become frustrated by the accessibility of the latest business support schemes, prompting Rush to write to Huddleston.

The Sports Minister visited St Helens earlier this year, calling at Blackbrook amateur rugby league club as part of a Rugby League World Cup 2021 event.

Huddleston was taken to task in the Commons over the plight of sports organisations such as Saints and Haydock Park Racecourse by St Helens North MP Conor McGinn this week.

In May the Government pledged a £16m rescue fund for the sport of rugby league and this has been shared between clubs with the key purpose of sustaining them while match day revenues had ceased.

But this is not enough to protect the off field operations at larger clubs, such as Saints.

In his letter, Rush writes: “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.”

He said the club has accessed furlough relief where possible, which has been welcomed, and has already submitted a loan application to Government.

However, Rush said there had been barriers to further support.

He said: “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 heartbroken.”

Talks between Saints, St Helens Borough Council and local politicians have been taking place regularly to find ways of supporting an institution that is a key part of St Helens’ life and indentity.

Rush added: “The club appreciates the continued support of local MPs – 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.”

David Baines, the leader of St Helens Borough Council, urged the Government to do more and said Saints are suffering as a consequence of policies that are inconsistent.

“I’ve been going to Saints since I was seven years old.

“As a fan first and foremost I know and understand the importance of the club to people and our communities.

“The letter from Mike Rush is heartfelt and honest about the circumstances the club now finds itself in due to government inconsistency and delay.

“I’m glad the council has been able to give the club some financial support through the City Region emergency fund we set up with Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram and other local councils, but it’s clear that government need to step up urgently to protect jobs, the club, and the sport we all love.”