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Hearts owner Ann Budge defends making wage cuts during cash-flow crisis

Ann Budge has defended herself against “ill-informed” pundits criticising her Hearts wage cuts as she insisted the Tynecastle cash-flow crisis is no worse than any other club’s.

She also dismissed claims the club are keeping a “pot of money” in reserve to buy players once the coronavirus pandemic passes.

The Jambos owner told both players and staff last week to prepare for their salaries to be slashed by 50 per cent as she sought to avert a financial disaster brought on by the outbreak.

Hearts captain Steven Naismith has agreed to take a wage cut

Hearts captain Steven Naismith has agreed to take a wage cut (Jeff Holmes/PA)

Boss Daniel Stendel has waived his wages during the shutdown while skipper Steven Naismith is the first member of the playing staff to agree to the cuts.

Now Budge has responded to the likes of Kris Boyd, Michael Stewart and Tam McManus after she was faced with claims that she had “spent well beyond” Hearts’ means – insisting it was better to act to curb spending now than to wait until it is too late.

“I feel for the sake of our supporters I need to address the enormous amount of ill-informed and self-opinionated commentary coming from some sections of the media at the moment,” she wrote in a statement on the club website.

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“Firstly, let me reassure all Hearts supporters that our financial position is no worse (nor better) than almost every other senior football club in Scotland, despite the recent continuous supply of misinformation and malicious speculation.

“In line with most other clubs, we aim to hold sufficient cash reserves to cover two to three months of normal trading operations.

“The reason we are implementing cost control measures is because we could be facing up to six months of totally abnormal operations.

“I see absolutely no reason for sitting back and waiting either on a miracle or for the Government to bail out every company in the country. Neither of these options is likely to happen and I make no apology for putting immediate plans in place to mitigate the problems heading our way.

“Nor do I make any apology for being open and transparent with staff, players and supporters about the potential scale of the issue.

“I did so quickly, not to create panic, but to give everyone time to plan and consider their own circumstances. Cost-cutting is going to come and I see no point in sugarcoating this news.”

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Budge has closed down Tynecastle and the club’s Riccarton training base in line with government advice on controlling the virus’ spread.

Before doing that, she held meetings with Stendel’s playing squad and the rest of the Jambos staff to inform them of the reasons for her drastic measures.

While she claims the response was “amazing” there have been reports that first-team players have been left angered by news the club’s head of recruitment John Murray had contacted agents looking for new players, with his leaked email seeming to suggest Hearts had money to spend on signings.

But clarifying the issue, Budge said: “We must continue to plan for football returning and make sure we are in the strongest possible position possible when that happens.

“I would however like to make it clear there is no pot of money sitting in the bank that could be going towards player or employee wages and there is certainly no intention of paying transfer fees under the current circumstances.”

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Meanwhile, Hearts have been forced to delay the transfer of owner Budge’s controlling stake to fan group the Foundation of Hearts, which was due to take place next month.

FoH chairman Stuart Wallace told members in an email: “Given the troubled situation, the board of the FoH has taken the decision that this is not the time to be adding any further potential disruption by pushing forward with the handover of the majority shareholding.

“All parties remain totally committed to fan ownership and this handover will, of course, still happen but such an historic event must be conducted at a more settled time.”