Parklife Festival (cap. 80,000) and Warehouse Project co-founder Sacha Lord, Boomtown Fair (66,000) operations director Judy Bec, Artichoke CEO Helen Marriage and LIVE CEO Jon Collins took to the Access All Areas conference main stage at the Event Production Show to discuss the priority industry-wide issues that need tackling in the coming year.
Lord said an acute shortage of live events personnel continues to present huge challenges for the entire industry: “The first Parklife after the pandemic, with just three weeks to go, we nearly had to pull the event because we didn’t have enough security. We’ve always taken it from Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool but we were busing them in from all over the UK, and as far away as Cornwall.”
He said the Government should lower the post-Brexit visa requirements to allow people from oversees to come and work for less money: “You have to earn a minimum of £28,000, now I’m arguing we need better pay, but let’s reduce that now to £21,000 to get people back into the industry as quick as we can.”
Marriage agreed that a major priority for the industry must be attracting people back to work in it: “Getting a new generation of people interested in training in our industry; production managers, riggers, lighting technicians – there’s a generation missing. The old guys are all going at the top and where are the new people coming in?”
Lord said freelancers had been “thrown under the bus” during pandemic, and the introduction of the IR35 off-payroll working rules, that make sure a contractor pays broadly the same Income tax and National Insurance as an employee, was unfair.
“Freelancers got hardly any support at all during the pandemic period, and just as we reopened, they introduced IR35 which was another kick in the balls for them,” he said. “So, I would say look at IR35 again, and maybe drop that.”
Live music industry umbrella organisation LIVE (Live music Industry Venues & Entertainment) is a federation of 14 live music industry associations. Collins said LIVE’s number one priority is persuading Government to cut VAT on tickets back to the pandemic level of 5%.
“Bringing back the 5% rate would put us in line with Europe, and allow us to do more,” he said. “You talk to agents and promoters about tour programming and event programming and with VAT at 5% they would do extra [regional] arena shows , they would do Aberdeen, they would do Leeds as well as Manchester and do an extra night in London.
“The National Arenas Association worked out that for every 10,000 people that go to an arena show £1 million goes into the local economy. That’s about £100 per head spent in that local economy.
“That is all extra money we would be generating for UK PLC. It’s also giving people wonderful nights out, so far and away for us the most important thing is VAT at 5%.”
Since its launch in 2006, Artichoke has presented many huge, free-to-attend, events in city and town centres. Among them was the company’s presentation of Royal de Luxe’s The Sultan’s Elephant, which drew a crowd of 1 million in central London. Despite the success of its events, Marriage suggested Government does not reflect their impotence and the key target for industry campaigning should be the Treasury.
“If you’re giving something away for free, however big, however many millions of people you have on the street, however much income you generate, it’s not considered serious. We, as an industry, have failed to make those arguments stick, not with the DCMS who I’m sure get it, but it’s the Treasury in the end that makes those decisions. So, if you can’t persuade the Treasury of the value of what you’re doing, you’re done for.”
Boomtown Fair head of operations Judy Bec expressed concern about how audience behaviour had changed since the pandemic, not only in terms of when and if they buy tickets but what they do once on site.
“We did two years of rollover tickets, so it’s really hard for us to do that sort of backwards comparison and gauge whether or not we’re on track in terms of ticket sales, but ticket buying behaviour does seem to be changing,” she said. “The cost-of-living crises is leading people to be a lot more careful about what they’re spending their money on, and festivals are a high-level cost.
“Behaviour when they arrive is also changing, we’ve got a very different audience now. [At last year’s event] our audience was already two years older than they were when they bought their tickets. In many cases, they hadn’t had the experience of going to events for two years, so we were having to retrain people in how to behave.
“Covid gave people a lot of time for self-reflection and it highlighted people’s vulnerabilities. I think that now the vulnerabilities have really come to the surface, and they are needing more support.”
Despite all the problems caused by Covid, Lord said there was one positive that has come out of it for the live events industry: “Very quickly the public got behind our industry because they realised the damage Covid had caused to the sector, and they realised we weren’t getting the support that we should have done.”