FORMER Hearts chairman George Foulkes has appealed to the Tynecastle club’s highest earners to accept a 50 per cent cut in pay in order to safeguard the future of the Tynecastle club during the coronavirus pandemic.

Lord Foulkes, who served on the board at the Gorgie outfit during the Vladimir Romanov era and still attends their home matches, was shocked when he learned that owner and chairwoman Ann Budge had made the request on Wednesday.

Former Entrepreneur of the Year Budge revealed earlier this week that the shutdown of Scottish football is set to cost the bottom-placed side in the Ladbrokes Premiership over £1m in lost income in the coming weeks.

Hearts had been due to play four more Premiership games at home during the remainder of the 2019/20 campaign and take on their Edinburgh rivals Hibernian in the William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden next month.

Budge’s move, which came less than a week after the Joint SFA and SPFL Response Group took the decision to suspend all domestic professional and grassroots football in Scotland until further notice, has taken both players and supporters aback.

Foulkes - who makes, along with over 8,000 other Hearts supporters, a set monthly payment to the Foundation of Hearts – was surprised the Tynecastle club have been the first to encounter financial problems given how much money has been ploughed into their coffers.

However, the Labour peer believes that Hearts won't be the last club to take such dramatic action as a result of the coronavirus crisis and has urged first team players like Liam Boyce, Steven Naismith and John Souttar to agree to the cut to ensure their long-term stability.

“It came as a shock to me, as it did to everyone,” he said. “But it is probably the expedient and sensible thing to do given the current situation. This kind of action is probably necessary where clubs and other businesses are under threat. It is the prudent action. She’s got that business sense and the authority to make this decision quickly.

“Hearts have had financial problems before and players haven’t been paid in the past, but this is different. If players are training, but aren’t going to be playing I hope they agree to it.

“It’s not just football clubs that are failing, this is every business. Restaurants and theatres, every business is under threat, every company is experiencing difficulties and is facing up to those.

“I was talking to a colleague of mine this week who is a director at an English Championship club. They are fortunate because they sold a player in the January transfer window and have enough money in the bank to get by in the short term. But a lot of clubs below Premier League level are going to struggle. There is a threat to their existence.

“It isn’t just gate receipts from the cancelled matches that Hearts are going to miss out on. There is the income from all of the other things that the club was doing, from catering to hiring out the facilities at Tynecastle to outside groups.

"I think this is probably a wise decision given the unprecedented circumstances. I hope the better paid players realise these are extraordinary times.”

Foulkes continued: “I would hope that the higher paid players at the club would quickly accept what she is suggesting. But I hope the 50 per cent cut isn’t across the board. I hope it takes into account some of the lower paid employees who are on relatively basic salaries.

“Hearts were the first club in Scotland to implement the National Minimum Wage in 2014. I would like to think the employees who earn less won’t have to accept the cut because it will have far greater implications for them.”

Foulkes expressed hope the Foundation of Hearts - who were, before the shutdown, set to take ownership of the Tynecastle club at the end of next month after repaying the £2.5 million loan owed to Budge – would be able to help financially in the coming weeks.

“I’m a member of the foundation and I contribute towards it every month,” he said. “Fans have raised over £10m since its formation. If fans maintain their monthly contributions that will help to keep the club going during his uncertain period.

"Of course, some of them will struggle to because the economy as a whole will suffer. But to get over 8,000 people making a monthly contribution is outstanding. It may be that there is some money there that can be used to help.”

Meanwhile, Foulkes has suggested the financial predicament Hearts are in make relegating them to the Championship based on their Premiership placing on March 13 - when the joint response group brought in the indefinite suspension - unlikely.

“I am obviously totally biased as a Hearts supporters, but the only way forward is to declare the season null and void or to complete the matches at some point in the future," he said. "But there can’t be relegation based on where Hearts are now. The consequences of doing that are too grave. It would be unfair."