UK festivals face 2021 cancellation without government insurance

© Jake Davis

“This really is the final countdown for many businesses.”

Last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined his roadmap out of Covid-19 restrictions. In his announcement, he suggested that if cases continue to fall, the nation could be out of social distancing measures by 21 June at the earliest, meaning that events, clubs and festivals could take place this summer

However, independent festival organisers working in the UK have suggested that they could be forced to cancel their events this year if government-backed insurance and VAT intervention isn’t received by the end of March.

In a member survey conducted by the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), 92.5 percent of those taking part confirmed that they cannot stage events without government insurance, describing insurance measures as “vital, not optional”.

Elsewhere, the organisation’s research suggests that a festival taking place in early July would need 40% of its total costs paid prior to 14 June, which is the date that the government is scheduled to make a decision on whether or not to proceed into Stage 4 of the proposed roadmap. Twenty percent of these costs will be paid in April, two months prior to this. These costs cover crucial areas such as artist and production deposits, plus licensing, policing and medical provisions.

AIF also reiterated an earlier call for a three-year extension to the reduced five percent VAT rate on ticket sales, which was introduced back in July.

As reported by NME, AIF CEO Paul Reed said: “The Prime Minister has set out a roadmap and a ‘no earlier than’ date for festivals, and audiences have responded, demonstrating a huge appetite to be back in the fields this summer. But we need government interventions on insurance and VAT before the end of this month when festivals will need to decide whether they can commit to serious amounts of upfront capital.” [sic]

“Now that we have a ‘no earlier than’ date, insurance is the last remaining barrier to planning. We know that government is aware of the insurance issue and AIF has provided evidence and data to support the case.” [sic]

“Having injected huge consumer confidence, government should intervene at this stage and ensure that our culture-defining independent festivals can mobilise and plan for this summer. With the cut-off point for many organisers at the end of the month, this really is the final countdown for many businesses.” [sic]

The warning comes just days before the Spring Budget, which will be announced on Wednesday (3 March). In recent weeks, the DCMS Committee and its Chair Julian Knight have called on chancellor Rishi Sunak to implement support and a government-backed insurance scheme for festivals in the budget announcement. 

Downing Street is said to be considering the issue, according to a report published in The Times. It reads: “We are looking at a range of support options to help the sector get going again, and we have heard these calls for an insurance scheme.”

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on 22 February, a flurry of UK festivals and events such as Pride in London, Reading and Leeds, Parklife and more have announced their rescheduled summer dates.