COVID-19: Summer festivals could go ahead – 'but only if government offers support'

January 04, 2021

Live music events such as concerts and festivals would be safe to go ahead this summer – but depend on government action to boost industry confidence, a lobby group has claimed.

A report by UK Music said it was confident it could manage health risks if the government sets a start date for the industry and introduces COVID-19 cancellation insurance.

Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, chief executive of the campaign group, acknowledged the pandemic was still raging, but insisted there was "an end point in sight".

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"Government is rolling out the vaccine and is openly speculating about returning to normal by the spring - but there is a serious risk that even if this proves to be a reality, lack of notice and available insurance options will mean much of the 2021 summer music season can't go ahead," he said.

Nick Reed, chief executive of Town Hall and Symphony Hall venues in Birmingham, said: "The promoting sector needs to have confidence that it can make the transition from closed to open.

"That needs to be underwritten in some way. The government should be considering insurance - a government-backed insurance policy to make that happen.

"We're not a fish and chip shop. We can't just order the fish on Sunday and reopen our doors on Monday. There is a lag in how our business works."

The report, Let the Music Play: Save Our Summer, also called for targeted financial support, an extension to the VAT rate reduction on tickets, a rollover of 2020 local authority licence fees to 2021, and an extension to business rates relief.

It was published as music festival organisers gave evidence on their future at a hearing before a group of MPs on the digital, culture, media and sport select committee.

Sacha Lord, co-founder of Manchester's Parklife, said workers would permanently transition to other industries and smaller festivals would disappear in the wake of more cancellations.

And Anna Wade, communications and strategy director of Boomtown Fair, said large and grassroots music events would be in "absolutely dire straits" financially if restrictions remain by summer.

The live music industry is big business, generating £4.7bn for the UK economy in 2019, according to UK Music.

But it has been almost completely closed since March because of the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing regulations.

Up to 170,000 jobs in the music industry as a whole were expected to be lost by Christmas, according to Live Music Industry Venues & Entertainment (LIVE).

Before the pandemic, Symphony Hall hosted audiences of 2,200 and employed 65 staff.

Since March 2020, it has made nearly one third of its staff redundant, furloughed most of the rest and hosted just two, socially distanced, performances.

But the reduced capacity rendered these gigs unviable, said Mr Reed.

The sector is likely to be one of the last to reopen after the pandemic and there are fears many venues will have closed for good and skilled staff will have left by the time audiences are finally ready to return.

Mr Reed added: "We're going to be measuring our future in a matter of months. We have some reserves. But this is an expensive organisation, even to keep closed. So the future remains really parlous for us."

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Jess Murphy is a violinist and organised Let Music Live, a musicians' protest in Parliament Square in October.

She said that the coronavirus pandemic, along with the complications of touring caused by Brexit, were "absolutely" the perfect storm for the industry.

"As it stands with the Brexit deal we don't know how we can work in the European Union.

"We are desperate for the government to take this seriously and try and help us maybe in the form of some kind of culture and creative passport that allows you to work for say a year at a time; rather than a situation that would be dreadfully difficult to negotiate, where every single person would have to negotiate with every single country if they wanted to do a tour.

"It would get impossible because on a tour you need to be in maybe four different countries at a time just in a week for example."

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