UK Music published a new report today called ‘Let The Music Play: Save Our Summer 2021’, timed to coincide with the first oral hearing as part an inquiry into the festival sector instigated by the UK Parliament’s culture select committee.
Although it begins by revisiting the devastating impact the COVID pandemic has had on the live music sector, much of the report is focused on the return of gigs and festivals later this year, and what government could and should do now to help with that recovery.
There has been a little more optimism in the live sector regarding the return of gigs and festivals in 2021 since the approval and roll out of the first COVID vaccines at the end of last year.
However, the subsequent return of more extreme COVID restrictions – leading to yesterday’s announcement that a full-on lockdown was back in force across the UK – has confirmed there are still plenty of hurdles for the sector to cross.
Of course, even with vaccinations under way, there remains plenty of uncertainty regarding how long COVID restrictions will be required for and when exactly those restrictions will be sufficiently relaxed to allow commercially viable shows to return.
That uncertainty is frustrating for the whole live sector, though even more so for festival companies which make most of their money over a few days each year. They need to know to what extent ongoing COVID restrictions will reduce their capacities and increase their production costs this summer.
And also whether any of the 2021 festival season will have to be abandoned entirely. The prospect of another round of cancellations further adds to the problem, because it makes it incredibly difficult to insure events.
Which means promoters face the prospect of having to invest time and money now to build the systems and infrastructure needed to allow festivals to occur while moderate COVID restrictions are still in place, but with the risk of being entirely out of pocket if higher-level COVID measures ultimately result in cancellation.
Many festival companies, already on the brink after cancelling 2020 editions, can’t take that risk. With that in mind, one of UK Music’s requests of ministers is a government-backed indemnity scheme for live music events.
It also asks for an indicative date for a full capacity restart of shows, further targeted financial support for the live music sector, and an extension of the previous VAT and business rate relief schemes.
Speaking ahead of his appearance before today’s select committee hearing, UK Music boss Jamie Njoku-Goodwin said: “While this pandemic is still raging and continues to cause devastation to lives and livelihoods today, there is an endpoint in sight”.
“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”.
“In this report, UK Music is putting forward a clear plan for recovery: what we need to do to get the live performance sector back up on its feet again in 2021″, he added. “But the clock is ticking, and any day soon we could see major festivals and events start pulling the plug for lack of certainty”.
He concluded: “With the right support the live music industry can be at the forefront of the post-pandemic recovery and play a key role in our country’s economic and cultural revival – but there will need to be a concerted effort from industry and the government together if we are to let the music play and save our summer.”
UK Music’s concerns and demands were echoed by the Association Of Independent Festivals. Thanking the culture sector committee for putting the spotlight on these challenges at this time, AIF’s CEO Paul Reed told ministers: “AIF is grateful for the opportunity to represent the UK’s leading independent festivals in front of the [culture] select committee today”.
“We are clearly in a very serious and pivotal stage of the pandemic – summer and festivals seem very distant”, he added. “But, given that festivals take at least six months to plan, this is absolutely the right time to be having this conversation”.
“Festivals will only return when it is absolutely safe to do so and the industry is working hard on developing mitigations. But we are also calling for a ‘no earlier than’ date, government intervention on insurance and targeted financial support if needed to protect businesses, countless livelihoods, local communities and a major contribution to the national economy”.
He concluded: “Key decisions do need to be made now to sustain the prospect of a UK festival industry this year and beyond”.