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Having been involved in administering the Government’s £500m insurance scheme for film and television productions, Marsh head of strategic business development, UK & Ireland, for sports, entertainment & media Edel Ryan considers the prospect of a similar scheme for festivals.

The UK entertainment and live events industry was among the first to shut down back in March 2020; it will almost certainly be the last to re-open in light of Boris Johnson’s planned roadmap ending on 21 June.

With national vaccine distribution programmes well under way, the UK has delivered more than 30 million doses to date, ticket sales for summertime live music and festivals are ramping up. In the meantime, organisers face real and pressing financial challenges amidst the ongoing pandemic, particularly around the availability of event cancellation insurance.

Various government-backed insurances and schemes are being duly welcomed by the entertainment industry around the world. But will the UK Government fund a scheme for live music organisers who are keen to get the show back on the road? The UK’s unique Film and TV Production Restart Scheme is a torchbearer and illustrates just how effective and successful such schemes can be. Since its launch, it has helped over 230 productions get back on their feet and supported more than 25,000 screen sector jobs that simply would not have happened were it not for the scheme. The six-month extension announced in the Budget is expected to create a further 20,000 jobs and fuel several hundred million pounds of additional investment into the UK’s film and TV industry.

The UK’s £500m scheme is recognised as being one of the largest internationally. While its sheer size was almost certainly determined by production industry data, the list of successful applications recently published by Number 10 shows that not every production produced in the UK has applied since its launch. This perhaps tells us that the scheme is doing exactly what it was designed to, which is give confidence back to those who financially need it most. The announcement of several extensions and increased flexibility to the terms are further evidence of promising support. Importantly, when first announced and then initially opened for applications, the scheme allowed productions to apply for compensation at the same time as application, an unfamiliar mechanism and a complete ‘no no’ to insurance markets.

While setting an encouraging precedent for government intervention, insurance by no means remains the panacea for mass live audience events, a view that has been echoed by government ministers. The UK’s widespread vaccine rollout is undoubtedly leading the way and its success will deliver a better and necessary sense of predictability. This, combined with the learnings from the planned major test events, are critical factors to hosting events safely without the need for social distancing. Already we have seen what is possible from the recent 5,000-capacity Barcelona pilot show, organised by an impressive collaboration between the music industry, scientists, health, cultural and security government departments. Extensive post-event testing is currently under way to analyse whether any infections have resulted from audience participation.

Event organisers have proven time and time again that they are nimble and adaptable in unprecedented situations. The horrific events of 9/11 had widespread ramifications for the industry, resulting in changes to the way attendees enter premises and how searches are conducted. Fundamentally, live events are, after all, a ‘people business’, and if past experience is anything to go by, the industry will be able to pivot quickly to a position where the barrier of commercially viable available insurance is the single challenge to overcome.