The Public Accounts Committee is calling on the Government to support festivals, which face a “survival threat” without Government-backed insurance indemnity against the risk of cancellation. In a report published today (June 23), the committee also raises concerns about whether freelancers and supply chains essential to the event and culture sector have been able to access support.

The committee was examining the Department for Digital Culture Media and Sport’s Culture Recovery Fund and its ability to get funds to help more than 5,000 organisations survive after they had to close their doors on March 23, 2020.

In July 2020 the Culture Secretary announced a £1.57 billion support package, the Culture Recovery Fund, with a primary objective of rescuing up to 75 per cent of arts, culture and heritage institutions and organisations at risk of financial ruin following the national lockdown. The department is accountable for this fund.

In the report, the committee acknowledges the department’s efforts to help cultural bodies survive. It also highlights that some organisations reported difficulties in accessing funds and others receiving no feedback whatsoever following unsuccessful applications, leaving them in perilous financial situations. There remain big questions over whether the fund reached the freelancers, commercial organisations and supply-chain businesses essential to the sector. Furthermore, this year there is also a “survival threat” to Britain’s treasured summer festivals “without a Government-backed insurance indemnity package against the risk of cancellation”.

Festivals are making difficult decisions about whether to risk their survival by going ahead this summer, with many – including Bluedot and Greenbelt –citing no Government-backed insurance scheme as the reason for their decision to cancel. The Public Accounts Committee says that the DCMS has not modelled the cost of underwriting festival indemnity insurance.

According to the report, the DCMS recognises the ongoing difficulties faced by organisations in the sector, even when they have received funding. The committee says DCMS must now properly assess and account for the impact of the Culture Recovery Fund, which also gives an opportunity for “a fresh look at the challenges the sector faces” and how DCMS can “best support the sector’s creative and economic potential in the future.”

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “The pandemic has exposed just how poorly departments across Government understand the sectors that they oversee. DCMS was clear that it ‘would not save every organisation’ but we are concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on those organisations vital to the culture sector – sound engineers, lighting and technical support.

“The Government must urgently consider support other than cash, such as insurance indemnity or parts of the sector risk as second summer of forced inactivity with all the devastating consequences to their survival.

“This is a sector famed for making the show go on, no matter what, but it has been hammered by COVID-19 – mostly unable to operate at all for most of the last 15 months. If the pandemic is allowed to steal a significant part of our creative and cultural sector it will have impoverished us indeed.”

The news comes as Nigel Huddleston MP faced urgent questions in the House of Commons regarding the delayed publication of guidance that would help event organisers to plan for the lifting of Step 4 restrictions.

Jo Stevens MP tabled an urgent question to Huddleston and asked for an update on the Events Research Programme. She highlighted that the delay to the publication of Events Research Programme data was impacting the events and festival industry. Earlier this week, From the Fields, organiser of Kendal Calling, announced the cancellation of the festival. It said that the delayed publication of guidance was the main reason behind its decision. Yesterday (June 22), Truck Festival joined Kendal Calling and cancelled the 2021 edition of its festival too.

Huddleston said that the guidance would be published ahead of the lifting of Step 4 restrictions. The parliamentary session can be viewed here.