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Culture select committee says government inaction on insurance will result in another “lost summer” for the festival sector

By | Published on Tuesday 1 June 2021

Live Music

The UK Parliament’s culture select committee this weekend published a report based on its inquiry into the future of the music festival sector. MPs on the committee again called on the UK government to urgently instigate a state-backed insurance scheme for large-scale events due to take place in the coming months as COVID restrictions lift, otherwise, they said, the festival industry would face another “lost summer”.

In theory, from 21 Jun full capacity events will be possible in England again as part of the government’s current plan to remove COVID restrictions. However, there still remains a risk those restrictions could as yet extend. Which means any festivals due to take place in July or beyond still face the risk of having a last minute cancellation.

With no cancellation insurance available on the commercial market, that has forced many independent promoters to already cancel their 2021 editions, which could have gone ahead if the 21 Jun target is actually met.

For months the music industry has been urging UK ministers to follow the lead of governments in some other countries by offering large-scale events state-backed insurance. That way, as soon as COVID restrictions lift, there will be flurry of festivals ready to proceed.

However, to date the government has resisted all those calls. It has been indicated that some sort of insurance will likely be offered once COVID restrictions have actually lifted, but not while there remains uncertainty about the 21 Jun target date. But for many events, that will be too late.

The urgent need for such insurance was the key finding of the select committee’s report, with committee Chair Julian Knight saying this weekend that “festivals have been treated as the poor relation by the government” during the COVID pandemic.

He added that few festival promoters had benefited from the culture-specific COVID funding that was made available last year, and that festivals would not have featured in the government’s Events Research Programme into how to safely get full capacity shows back up and running – where shows do get state-backed insurance – without the committee’s efforts.

Knight added: “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 21 Jun. There’s still time to get the music playing, but no more room for excuses”.

The committee’s conclusion has been welcomed by the live sector. Paul Reed, CEO of the Association Of Independent Festivals, 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”.

Noting that state-backed insurance might be made available post 21 Jun, he added: “We expect swift intervention at that point with an insurance scheme that protects festivals that may need to cancel after 21 Jun, 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 21 Jun are protected”.

Meanwhile, Greg Parmley from live industry trade group LIVE said: “The 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 Department For Digital, Culture, Media & Sport and the 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 twelve months”.

“Without some form of insurance the risk of going ahead will simply be too great for many festivals this year”, he added, “and, whatever happens with the reopening timetable, the vast majority of events could pull the plug in the coming weeks”.