Association of Independent Festivals CEO Paul Reed calls on the Government to cement the progress made on the road to recovery with the Events Research Project and Cultural recovery Fund by helping provide indemnity for festivals operators.

It was incredible to attend the festival pilot event in Sefton park, Liverpool recently. This will hopefully be an important milestone in the safe return of festivals and other live music events, and it was a timely reminder of the transformative effect of live music. I’m not going to get into second guessing any outcomes of the pilot but the palpable joy of the audience and the ability of promoters to deliver fantastic experiences is what we as an industry have all been tirelessly fighting for in the last year.

Yet, barriers remain. Some time ago, AIF began the grim task of tracking festival cancellations and over a quarter of UK festivals over 5,000 capacity have already cancelled their 2021 events. It will no doubt be more by the time you are reading this. These include some of the best loved and most iconic UK independent festivals including Boomtown Fair, Deershed, Bluedot, Shambala, Greenbelt, Beat Herder…The list, sadly, goes on.

We know that insurance is a ‘do not pass go’ issue for many festival promoters in terms of being able to plan with confidence. The fact that Covid cancellation insurance is not already available is a market failure that is impairing economic activity and requires Government intervention. The proposal is for Government to become the insurer of last resort for Covid related event cancellations, in a similar way to what they have done for film and TV production.

I should add that, although it is estimated that an exposure of £250m would cover the UK’s 975 festivals and unlock around £9bn of economic value to local and national economies, the key point here is that it will not cost the taxpayer a penny if the roadmap goes smoothly – all we are asking Government to do is back its own plan.

While we’re on the monopoly analogies, most independent festivals are much closer to Old Kent Road than Mayfair, with incredibly tight margins at the best of times. The Government’s Culture Recovery Fund (CRF) has been a lifeline for many, with more than £11m given to our members alone, but the grants do not touch the sides in terms of what it costs to produce a festival, with the average cost sitting at over £6m. The CRF is a remarkable and timely intervention but it simply papers over the cracks – and festival organisers are facing far more than a “John Lewis nightmare”.

Umbrella group LIVE recently wrote a letter to the prime minister, and culture secretary Oliver Dowden, suggesting that spare funds in the CRF could be used to create a contingency fund offering partial protection to organisers. Let us hope that the Boris Johnson has read that letter and responds to industry soon, as we are seriously running out of time.

We are extremely grateful for the support but, historically, we are not a sector that is reliant on public money. What we really want is to get on with safely re-opening festivals and playing an important role in the (dare I even say it) post-pandemic recovery, both culturally and economically.

As ever, we are trying to come up with workable solutions – festivals are, after all, a resilient and innovative industry that are used to mitigating countless risks and ensuring the safety of millions of people in temporary cities in fields.

Industry is doing its utmost on every level to ensure a safe return this summer: We have worked pro-actively through our festivals working group with DCMS and PHE to produce interim guidance, and provided a lot of data and evidence to Government on what the obstacles are and what is required.

Unless there is further intervention on insurance, this will unfortunately not be the great British Summer that the Government envisages, it will be an incredibly selective one and the scenes from Sefton Park will seem like some strange dream instead of the start of an incredibly welcome return to normality.

This article was published in the May edition of Access All Areas. Read it here, and/or subscribe for free here