Welsh Secretary and Labour MP clash over whether Chester FC received Welsh Government funding
The UK Government’s Welsh Secretary and a Welsh Labour MP have clashed on whether Chester FC received Welsh Government funding.
Chester FC are at the centre of a dispute over Welsh Government Covid regulations. Despite the pitch and stands being in Wales, the club argues that as an English team representing an English city in an English league, Welsh regulations banning crowds at sport matches should not apply.
The Welsh Secretary Simon Hart backed Chester FC, arguing that the team were not Welsh as they did not receive Welsh Government financial aid.
Cardiff Central Labour MP Jo Stevens however said that they confirmed publicly in June 2020 that they had received Covid funding through Flintshire Council, which distributed Welsh Government funds within the local authority.
The club said at the time, in a statement published in The Leader, that they had “received a Coronavirus Business Support Grant (£25,000) through Flintshire County Council and continue to take steps to manage ongoing running costs and annual outgoings such as utilities and insurances”.
Welsh Secretary Simon Hart had claimed earlier that the club had not received funds from the Welsh Government.
“I don’t understand the confusion with Chester FC and whether they fall foul of Welsh Gov covid rules,” he said.
“They’re in the English league, under Cheshire West and Chester Council, and policed by Cheshire Constabulary. They don’t even receive Welsh Gov financial aid. Any chance of some common sense?”
However, MP Jo Stevens replied to refer to the fact that they had said they were in receipt of a Welsh Covid support grant.
“The Welsh Government distributed covid business support through local authorities,” she said. “Chester FC received funding from Flintshire County Council in June 2020 and confirmed that publicly.”
The dispute began after North Wales Police and Flintshire County Council said they were working to “investigate” the club to find out if matches played at its ground on 28 December and 2 January broke the Welsh Government’s coronavirus regulations.
The club’s Deva Stadium home is on the Sealand Road Industrial Estate and lies on the Welsh side of the border with England. This border runs along the back of the East Stand with the pitch and as well as four stands lying in Flintshire.
Under Welsh Covid restrictions professional sports have to be played behind closed doors. Chester FC has been given until 11 January to respond to North Wales Police about whether it intends to still allow fans in for the next home game on Saturday.
Earlier today the First Minister Mark Drakeford said that a “sensible, pragmatic solution” will be found to the dispute regarding whether Welsh Covid restrictions apply to Chester FC.
Speaking on Sky News, Mark Drakeford said: “I’ve already asked my senior officials to have discussions today with the club, with the police, with the local authority that owns the ground, the Chester local authority.
“I’m sure there is a sensible pragmatic solution here that doesn’t mean the club is placed in jeopardy and that doesn’t result in the law being broken either.”
Chester FC said they had previously followed English coronavirus rules and guidance until now and can’t understand why that has changed.
“I think it’s ridiculous. We seem to be played around maybe as a political football all of a sudden,” said Jeff Banks, director of fan engagement at Chester FC.
“I think common sense just has to be used here.
“The football club is registered as an English football club, we are an English football club, in an English city, playing under an England FA in an English county, however, the pitch is in Wales.”