YORK council chiefs have moved to reassure businesses following the government’s closure of pubs, cafés, nightclubs, bars, theatres, restaurants, leisure centres and gyms.

City of York Council sought to allay the fears of those who own a business in the retail, hospitality or leisure sector, tonight (Friday) issuing this message: "If you pay your business rates by direct debit, we will stop your direct debit before April 1.

"If you pay by cash, don’t pay. If you pay by standing order - please cancel it. If we take a payment from you and you think you are an exempt business – contact us and we’ll pay you back straight away if we have made a mistake."

The statement came after the leader of the council, Cllr Keith Aspden, provided an update on the council’s coronavirus response.

He announced that the local authority will create its own emergency fund to support local residents, business and communities in response to the outbreak.

He added that the council would act swiftly to make sure residents and businesses can access the Government’s support packages as quickly as possible.

Ian Floyd, interim head of paid services at City of York Council, said: “This is truly an unprecedented time for our city and country, which is having a huge impact on everyone.

“In York our leisure and hospitality sector are a key part of what makes the city such a special place to live, visit and work.

“It is important that we all stick together to beat COVID-19 before it’s too late and we are keen everyone follows all the government measures around social isolation, including avoiding social contact wherever possible."

He said he welcomed the Chancellor’s announcement that will protect 80 per cent of wages across the city, adding: "We hope that this goes some way to alleviate the anxiety of residents about their employment.

"We are now working to make sure all our businesses can access support from both the council and the Government and will be announcing more information about our emergency fund for residents, businesses and communities early next week so people can get the help they need as quickly as possible."