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Link to original content: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/cricket/2020/04/02/exclusive-vast-majority-english-counties-put-players-furlough/
Exclusive: 'Vast majority' of English counties to put players on furlough

Exclusive: 'Vast majority' of English counties to put players on furlough

English cricket is looking to follow the lead of Premiership rugby clubs to offset the financial damage inflicted by the Covid-19 pandemic

A general view of the Riverside ground with Lumley Castle during day two of the 2nd Investec Test match between England and Sri Lanka at Emirates - Exclusive: 'Vast majority' of English counties to put players on furlough
Tim Bostock, the chief executive of Durham, said that furloughing players was 'inevitable' Credit: GETTY IMAGES

The “vast majority” of the 18 first-class counties could put their players on furlough over the coming days as counties seek to mitigate the financial damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Counties expect guidance from the ECB and PCA by the end of Friday over whether they can furlough players. But, based on precedents from other sports which have already put players on furlough, there are not anticipated to be any difficulties furloughing players. 

As Telegraph Sport revealed last week, Premiership rugby clubs are to receive a multi-million pound bailout from the government after opting to put their players on sabbatical during the crisis.

Under the furlough scheme, the government’s Job Retention Scheme will pay 80 per cent of salaries up to a monthly sum of £2,500, with employers - in this case the counties - covering any shortfall in wages if they can. By using the scheme, it is intended that counties can ensure that players still receive their full wages.

“I think the vast majority of counties will look to furlough the players,” said Tim Bostock, the chief executive of Durham. 

“We intend absolutely to furlough our players. Absolutely. We do intend to do that just because we think that's the right thing to do under the circumstances. Half of my workforce are unable to work for the next two months - they just happen to be players. It's as simple as that. If they were builders, we wouldn't be having this discussion.

Counties such as Surrey, who play at the Oval, might choose to continue without the aid of the government's furlough scheme Credit: GETTY IMAGES

“I don't see why we're any different. We know for a fact that our players can't work for two months - they absolutely can't work.” 

After the guidance from the ECB and PCA, expected on Friday, the furloughing process can begin within 24 hours. “It is a very simple process,” Bostock explained. “There's a process to follow - you send out a letter, you need to get acceptance from the individual player, and pretty much that's the day that the furlough starts from.” 

A number of counties have already put most, or all, of their non-playing staff on furlough to save costs. 

By furloughing all their cricket staff - their full playing squads, which generally number in the region of 25, as well as specialist coaches - it is estimated that counties could save themselves in the region of £75,000 a month during the furloughing process, even with topping up players' wages above the £2,500 a month per employee that the government will cover. This could save counties in the region of £250,000 if domestic cricket was able to resume in mid-July, which is considered a possible scenario. 

It will be up to the individual counties whether they intend to use the furlough scheme, and not all plan to. Some of the wealthiest counties - such as Surrey and Lancashire - are understood to intend to continue paying their players as normal.

But some counties fear that continuing to pay players in the normal way would place such financial pressures that it could lead to subsequent redundancies among both their playing and non-playing staff. 

“If one or two counties decide to not utilise the government retention scheme that's fine, they decide to carry on paying that's fine,” Bostock said. “But I would suggest that the vast majority of counties are definitely of the mind that furloughing players is inevitable.” 

Whether some counties might even choose to furlough players and be unable to top-up their full wages is unclear, though it is hoped that this can be avoided. 

While HMRC would have to clear county cricket teams to use the furloughing scheme, there is no reason to believe cricket would be treated differently to other sports. Bostock said the steps may need to be taken to protect the finances of counties, just as was the case for clubs in rugby union and lower league football. 

“Cricket's not out on a limb here, far from it. I think it's very important to separate the super rich world of Premier League football and some of the other sports that are clearly not in that super rich bracket and therefore using the furloughing scheme will very much help with the future financial stability of a lot of clubs.

“We've got to make sure, as a game, all lifeboats get to shore. And we have to utilise whatever means we have, whether that's cost-cutting, whether that's furloughing, whether that's taking advantage of the ECB financial package. You know, it's all of the above really, and that's what all the CEOs are wrestling with at the moment. But the end game is that we obviously continue to be viable and we're ready to go as soon as, fingers crossed, we get the green light.”

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