Liverpool have reversed a controversial decision to put around 200 non-playing staff on furlough following widespread criticism of their plans to use the government’s coronavirus job retention scheme.
The world’s seventh-richest football club announced on Saturday that it was to follow Newcastle, Tottenham, Norwich and Bournemouth in furloughing non-playing staff during the coronavirus crisis, with the taxpayer effectively paying 80% of the wages of those affected and the club paying the remaining 20%.
However, amid a barrage of criticism from former players and supporters, and following talks between the chief executive, Peter Moore, and the club’s owner, Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool have performed a U-turn and Moore has issued a public apology for the tawdry episode.
In an open letter from Moore to Liverpool supporters, the chief executive wrote: “We have consulted with a range of key stakeholders as part of a process aimed at achieving the best possible outcome for all concerned. A range of possible scenarios were considered, including but not restricted to: applying to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme which pays 80% of salary and guaranteeing the 20% payment; applying to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme with a guarantee to reimburse monies received at a later date and, thirdly, finding an alternative means to cover our furlough costs.
“It is as a direct result of this extensive consultation and our own internal deliberations at various levels throughout the Club that we have opted to find alternative means despite our eligibility to apply for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
“We believe we came to the wrong conclusion last week to announce that we intended to apply to the Coronavirus Retention Scheme and furlough staff due to the suspension of the Premier League football calendar, and are truly sorry for that.”
Liverpool have held talks with representatives of the supporters’ union Spirit of Shankly and local MPs over the climbdown but Moore warned the financial impact of the crisis on a club that only recently posted a pre-tax profit of £42m for 2018-19 remained severe.
He added: “Our intentions were, and still are, to ensure the entire workforce is given as much protection as possible from redundancy and/or loss of earnings during this unprecedented period. We are therefore committed to finding alternative ways to operate while there are no football matches being played that ensures we are not applying for the government relief scheme.
“We would like to acknowledge the great army of staff and casual workers who work tirelessly to ensure Liverpool is a club that operates to the highest of standards. But in the spirit of transparency we must also be clear, despite the fact we were in a healthy position prior to this crisis, our revenues have been shut off yet our outgoings remain. And like almost every sector of society, there is great uncertainty and concern over our present and future.
“Like any responsible employer concerned for its workers in the current situation, the Club continues to prepare for a range of different scenarios, around when football can return to operating as it did before the pandemic. These scenarios range from best case to worst and everything in between. It is an unavoidable truth that several of these scenarios involve a massive downturn in revenue, with correspondingly unprecedented operating losses. Having these vital financial resources so profoundly impacted would obviously negatively affect our ability to operate as we previously have.”
“We are engaged in the process of exploring all avenues within our scope to limit the inevitable damage. We thank the many amazing people in our club, at all levels, who are committed to helping us do just that, despite the complexity and unpredictability in the world and our industry.”