A report into the future of UK music festivals finds the sector faces another “lost summer”, as a direct result of the Government’s refusal to back insurance for events at risk of cancellation due to COVID-19 restrictions. The Future of UK Music Festivals calls on ministers to act now by providing a safety net for live events scheduled to take place after June 21 by introducing a time-limited insurance scheme.

The Government has ruled out offering any support before all restrictions on the roadmap are lifted which would be simply be too late for festivals this summer, say MPs. The failure by ministers to accommodate long lead times involved in delivering large-scale events comes despite consistent and repeated calls by the Committee on the Treasury to provide support that would enable planning to go ahead.

However, MPs express 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.

Julian Knight, chair of the DCMS Committee, said: “Music festivals have been treated as the poor relation by the Government. 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.”

According to the report, without pressure from the DCMS Committee, festivals could have been overlooked in the initial pilots of the Events Research Programme. Appearing before MPs, Culture Minister Caroline Dinenage accepted that festivals offered a unique setting and the Government subsequently announced one as a pilot in the ERP. Though strongly welcomed, MPs point out this effort would be wasted without an insurance solution for events beyond June 21.

The report found that last year, the majority of festivals were cancelled owing to COVID-19 restrictions with sector revenues dropping by 90%. This year more than a quarter of festivals with over 5,000 capacity, including Boomtown in Hampshire and Bluedot in Cheshire, have cancelled for a further year. Few festivals benefited from the Government’s support for the creative industries. Only eight per cent of festivals applied for the first round of the Culture Recovery Fund with those successful receiving just 1.3 per cent of the available grants, and some that did then being forced to cancel due to the lack of insurance.

Without the backing of large, transnational companies, the smaller independent events that account for most of the festivals sector cannot take the financial risk in the absence of insurance.

Despite months of discussion between the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, HM Treasury and the sector, the Government has continued to refuse to back such a scheme which would address a market failure to provide insurance for live events this summer.

Paul Reed, CEO of the AIF, commented on the publication of The Future of UK Music Festivals Report: “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 four 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.”

Image: Lucas Sinclair/Bluedot