Festivals face 'lost summer' over government inaction on insurance

Festivals face 'lost summer' over government inaction on insurance

The government’s refusal to back an insurance scheme for UK festivals has left the sector facing another "lost summer", according to a DCMS Committee report.

Members of the committee are making a last-ditch plea for ministers to introduce a time-limited insurance scheme to provide a safety net for live events set to take place after June 21 that are at risk of cancellation due to Covid-19 restrictions. The government has ruled out offering any support before all restrictions on the roadmap are lifted, which MPs say would be too late for this summer due to the long lead times involved in delivering large-scale events.

MPs have expressed caution on whether the government’s roadmap will enable festivals to go ahead this summer, raising doubts about the scope of the government’s Events Research Programme and uncertainty over the spread of new Covid-19 variants.

It has been made very clear to us that the vast majority of music festivals do not have the financial resilience to cover the costs of another year of late-notice cancellations

Julian Knight MP

“Music festivals have been treated as the poor relation by the government," said DCMS Committee chair Julian Knight MP. "Despite the huge economic and cultural contribution they make, few have benefited from the Culture Recovery Fund, and without our efforts the sector would have been left out of the pilot events programme on the safe return of audiences.

“It has been made very clear to us that the vast majority of music festivals do not have the financial resilience to cover the costs of another year of late-notice cancellations. If the commercial insurance market won’t step in, ministers must, and urgently. Events need to know now whether the government will back them, or they simply won’t take place this year. 

“We repeat our call for the government to announce an insurance scheme to cover festival organisers if events need to be cancelled as a result of Covid-19 restrictions continuing beyond June 21. There’s still time to get the music playing, but no more room for excuses.”

A number of UK festivals have already cancelled for 2021, including Glastonbury, BST Hyde Park, Boomtown, Bluedot, Belladrum, Shambala and Cornbury.

Greg Parmley, CEO of LIVE, the trade body for the UK live music industry, said: “The DCMS Select Committee is right when it says that the government is letting UK festivals down by refusing to deal with the absence of commercial insurance.

"After months of fruitless discussions with the DCMS and treasury, the sector is exasperated at the government’s unwillingness to step in to help prevent the collapse of the festival sector for a further 12 months. Without some form of insurance the risk of going ahead will simply be too great for many festivals this year and, whatever happens with the reopening timetable, the vast majority of events could pull the plug in the coming weeks.”

Festival Republic has confirmed Download Festival will return next month for a three-day camping pilot event as part of the second phase of the government’s Events Research Programme (ERP). The 10,000-capacity 'Download Pilot’ will take place from June 18-20 in Donington Park, with "no social distancing, no masks, camping and the return of moshing". 

AIF CEO Paul Reed said: “AIF welcomes the findings of the committee and appreciates its efforts over the past few months. We are pleased that MPs have again echoed our repeated calls for government-backed insurance for festivals. Government has essentially made a commitment to act on this once we reach step 4 of the roadmap. We expect swift intervention at that point with an insurance scheme that protects festivals that may need to cancel after June 21, should the trajectory of the pandemic dictate new lockdown, enforced reduced capacity or social distancing measures. As it will take some time for such a scheme to become operational, it is imperative that it is retroactive so that all festivals scheduled to take place after June 21 are protected." 

UK Music CEO Jamie Njoku-Goodwin added: “Julian Knight and the DCMS Select Committee deserve great credit for this timely and excellent report, which demonstrates the vital contribution of festivals to our £5.8 billion music industry and shows how, with the right support, our sector can help drive the post-pandemic recovery.

“We are just a few weeks away from large events potentially being allowed again – but organisers are being expected to plan these events and pay huge upfront costs without any sort of safety net. If the government does not act on insurance, we will see further cancellations this summer. This is a make or break moment for this year’s summer festival season. 

“The report also identifies the new challenges and costs to the music industry when it comes to musicians working in and touring Europe. The new touring barriers are a lose-lose situation, and it is clear that more work needs to be done between the UK, EU and member states to sort out issues like visas, work permits and cabotage. Finding solutions to these challenges will ensure we remain a global hub for the world’s most diverse, inspiring and innovative festivals and live events, and enable the UK music industry to help drive the post-pandemic recovery.”

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