UK Budget Lacks Government-Backed Insurance For Canceled Live Events

Dean Richardson of Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes crowd surfs during their performance at Leeds Festival 2019.
Katja Ogrin/Redferns
– Dean Richardson of Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes crowd surfs during their performance at Leeds Festival 2019.
The festival sold out its 2021 edition after the UK government announced plans to lift all COVID restrictions on social gatherings by June 21.

The UK has published its 2021 budget, which addresses many concerns the country’s live events sector has, apart from the most vital one: a government-backed insurance plan for events that are forced to cancel due to new COVID restrictions.

While an extended furlough scheme and VAT reduction are strongly welcomed by members of the live sector, they don’t address the main issue: their inability to work. COVID restrictions continue to affect an entire supply chain of businesses and individuals, many of whom don’t qualify for government programs – be it furlough schemes or the self-employment income support scheme (SEISS).
COVID restrictions continue to affect an entire supply chain of businesses and individuals – many of whom don’t qualify for government programs, be it furlough schemes or the self employment income support scheme (SEISS).
Most professionals working in live want to start bringing back audiences as an increasing number of studies (such as a study conducted at the concert hall Konzerthaus Dortmund in Germany that investigated the spatial dispersion of aerosols and CO2) show that concerts can be safe with proper safety measures.
Solo Agency founder and Isle of Wight Festival promoter John Giddings summed it up in a BBC interview earlier this year: “I want it for the general public to be safe to come to a festival. I don’t want someone to give me a load of money not to do a show. Who does that help? Giving people money just means their children, and their children’s children are going to be paying for it for the rest of their lives. That doesn’t get us anywhere.”
Paul Reed, CEO of the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), put it this way: “Independent festival organisers would much rather mobilise their staff to plan a full and successful festival season this summer,” rather than fall back on the extended furlough scheme, which, of course, does help businesses keep their staff on the payroll.
Reed explained that the only way to get the sector back the work was “a government-backed insurance scheme that covers COVID-19 related cancellation,” analogous to what the government has confirmed for film and TV productions.
“A similar safety net needs to be put in place before the end of March to avoid mass cancellations throughout the UK’s festival market,” he explained.
The extension to the reduced VAT rate on tickets will really help festivals during the 2021 sales cycle, the AIF acknowledges. “We do, however, reiterate the recommendation of the DCMS Select Committee for VAT on ticket sales to remain at a reduced rate for three years so that the UK festival sector can fully recover.”
UK prime minister Boris Johnson recently spoke about a roadmap out of lockdown, which, in the best-case scenario, would see all COVID restriction on the live sector lift by June 21. 
Some UK festivals taking place after the target date, including flagship events like Reading and Leeds, immediately announced that their 2021 edition would be going ahead.
Uncertainty, however, remains, seeing that the government may decide to tighten restrictions again any time.
Hospitality Weekend In The Woods sold out all tickets for its Sept. 18 date.
– Hospitality Weekend In The Woods sold out all tickets for its Sept. 18 date.
Festival director Josh Robinson said, “the live sector still is at huge risk if these events cannot go ahead and another year of investment is lost.”

Josh Robinson, director of UK drum and bass festival Hospitality Weekend In The Woods, which sold out all tickets for its Sept. 18 date, addressed it like this: “Consumer confidence is back and sales have been really positive since the road map was presented last week. But the budget still means the UK’s festivals have not got the insurance needed for Covid. 

“Despite the boom of ticket sales everywhere and a wave of positivity and optimism, the industry still needs targeted support and insurance to be able to host large scale events such as our own. And yesterday’s budget hasn’t addressed this issue at all. The live sector still is at huge risk if these events cannot go ahead and another year of investment is lost.”
The UK budget also sees a further £300 million pounds poured into the Culture Recovery Fund (CRf), which has been a lifeline for many independent businesses in the country. Still, “some further detail on this additional round and the time period it will cover” would be helpful, according to Reed.
The country’s Music Venue Trust (MVT) also welcomes the extensions to both furlough and self employment income support as well as the VAT cut on ticket sales. 
The organization’s CEO Mark Davyd also pointed out the lack of detail regarding the additional funding distributed through the Culture Recovery Fund. “We hope to work with ACE and DCMS to ensure it is effectively distributed, and includes sensible and structured capital investment that enables our music venues to become more Covid Secure,” he said.
The UK’s 2021 budget also introduces a £150 million so-called Community Ownership Fund that will allow communities across the UK to invest and protect the assets that matter most to them such as pubs, theaters, shops, or local sports clubs.
“We look forward to hearing more detail on the Community Fund, which may prove an important contribution to tackling the issue of ownership of our cultural spaces,” Davyd commented.
As is tradition:
JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images
– As is tradition:
Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, currently Rishi Sunak, poses with the Budget Box as he leaves 11 Downing Street before presenting the government’s annual budget to Parliament in London, March 3.

Michael Kill, CEO of the UK’s Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), summed the entire situation up in a statement released after the budget announcement.

He addressed the fact that many businesses that haven’t been able to open at all during the past year have accumulated a massive backlog of costs, including spiraling rent arrears. “The loan solutions outlined by the Chancellor just aren’t good enough for businesses that are already overburdened with debt,” said Kill.
He also highlighted the many individuals and businesses not eligible for receiving money from the expanded Cultural Recovery Fund. Many freelancers simply don’t qualify for any of the self employed schemed, nor can they profit from furlough schemes.
“Surveys have revealed two thirds of nightlife freelancers have been unable to access support,” Kill continued, adding that the expansions to the various schemes announced in the budget “will only make a small dent in this figure.”
Concluded Kill: “I am also disappointed that the Chancellor didn’t take this opportunity to introduce a Government-backed insurance scheme for events this summer. 
“Our world-leading festivals are at the heart of the UK’s cultural life – but because of the announcement today, so many events will be needlessly cancelled, or postponed to 2022.
“While the roadmap announcement gave hope to our sector last week, the Chancellor is now at risk of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. With the money spent on support to date, it is ridiculous that many nightlife businesses may now fall at the final hurdle.”