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51% of UK festivals have now cancelled in 2021, says AIF

By | Published on Monday 28 June 2021


More than half of the UK’s music festivals that were set to take place this year have now been cancelled, according to the Association Of Independent Festivals.

The trade body estimates that 51% of UK festivals with a capacity of more than 5000 people have now decided not to go ahead in 2021. Meanwhile, 78% of those yet to cancel are unsure if they will be able to take place, as COVID restrictions extend, but are holding on to the last possible moment before making a decision.

A key concern remains the lack of state-backed cancellation insurance. With no such insurance available on the commercial market, several governments around the world have stepped in to provide a safety net to large-scale events. But the UK government has resisted calls for such a scheme.

This has led to festivals that were due to take place in late July, August and September – after the current date when COVID restrictions could lift, 19 Jul – to cancel their 2021 editions. Because, without insurance, they can’t risk having to call off the show at the last minute, having already laid out for much of their production costs.

At this stage in the year, says the AIF, its members have spent an average of £451,500 on planning for their 2021 editions – although actual money spent ranges from £5000 to £4 million. On average, organisers have spent 25% of their total costs.

“This is a milestone that nobody wanted to reach”, says AIF CEO Paul Reed of the 51% figure. “Unfortunately, it has seemed inevitable for some time now thanks to the government’s inaction and refusal to give organisers any kind of safety net that would allow them to continue to invest in their businesses and the supply chain with confidence”.

“Make no mistake”, he adds, “these cancellations were entirely avoidable, and government must now change its position of reviewing insurance [only after COVID restrictions are lifted], as it will be far too late for most UK festivals. At this point, every day counts. If government has any confidence in 19 Jul as a terminus date, they will back this now”.

“There are still a number of festivals that could take place after the intended final lifting of lockdown on 19 Jul but, as we have seen with the likes of Kendal Calling and Truck Festival cancelling [last] week, that number is rapidly declining”, he goes on. “This is an existential issue; the 2021 season is collapsing without decisive government action and there is a real risk of these festivals not returning”.

Whether these gloomy stats can persuade the government to provide proper support to festivals to help them go ahead – or at least to not go out of business if they are unable to – remains to be seen. Maybe don’t hold your breath though.