UK Government Deals ‘Crippling Blow’ To Live Events Sector By Delaying Reopening

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson during the June 14 press conference.
WPA Pool/Getty Images
– Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson during the June 14 press conference.
Johnson announced a four-week delay to the lifting of all restrictions in England, from June 21 to July 19.

The UK government has delayed the last step of its roadmap out of lockdown, which should have seen all restrictions on social gatherings lifted by June 21. The live events and hospitality sectors are devastated.

UK prime minister Boris Johnsons announced that the final reopening date would be pushed back by another four weeks to July 19. The aim is to get more people vaccinated in light of “the Delta variant that is now spreading faster than the third wave predicted in the February roadmap,” as Johnson said in a June 14 press conference.
The UK’s live entertainment sector didn’t mince words while expressing its disappointment at these latest developments.
The decision is particularly devastating, as the country’s live professionals have been in constant exchange with decision makers, pointing towards the scientific evidence proving that live events pose no greater risk than other gatherings of large crowds that haven’t been restricted throughout the past year-and-a-half.
The UK has been successfully running pilot events in its so-called Events Research Program since April 2021, which included a 4,000-capacity live audience at the BRIT Awards in London, a 5,000-capacity big top festival in Liverpool, and many more.
A concert-goer enjoys a non-socially distanced outdoor live music event at Sefton Park, May 2, 2021 in Liverpool, England.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
– A concert-goer enjoys a non-socially distanced outdoor live music event at Sefton Park, May 2, 2021 in Liverpool, England.
The event was part of the UK’s Events Research Program, which is supposed to provide data on how events could reopen.

The pilot events were key to getting the country’s industry back to full capacity, as Lucy Noble, chair of the UK’s National Arenas Association, pointed out. “We understand that there were only 15 cases out of 58,000 attendees – although government is refusing to either publish the full report or to allow the sector to open up with the carefully planned precautions which we have been planning and putting in place for months,” she commented.

In light of these findings, it was “devastating for the live music sector that we continue to be hit with arbitrary restrictions which make live events unviable,” said Noble, who also chairs the venue group of the UK’s LIVE trade body.
The UK’s live events trade body LIVE has expressed its astonishment that the findings have never published in full, given their centrality to the reopening of live events. 
“This data must be published immediately so that the sector is able to see on what basis the Government is making decisions about the industry’s future, and so that we can play a collaborative role in future proofing live events for years to come,” a LIVE statement reads.
Pollstar was told by a representative of the UK government’s digital, media and sport committee, which oversees the Events Research Program, that the findings would likely become available this week.
LIVE pointed towards other European countries that announced reopening at full capacity with Covid certification schemes in place, while UK businesses are left “hamstrung as part of an industry in limbo.”
What doesn’t help is the ongoing lack of a government-backed insurance scheme for live events forced to cancel due to government-mandated restrictions, as well as money from the UK’s Culture Recovery Fund that’s left unallocated within government, and amounts to “hundreds of millions of pounds,” according to LIVE.
“This money needs to get into the industry without any more delay,” said LIVE CEO Greg Parmley.
Football fans leave Wembley stadium after of England's first fixture of the Euro 2020 competition with Croatia, June 13, 2021.
Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images
– Football fans leave Wembley stadium after of England’s first fixture of the Euro 2020 competition with Croatia, June 13, 2021.
22,500 people were allowed inside, making the rest of the live events sector wonder why they cannot start putting on concerts.

As Andy Lenthall, general manager of the UK’s Production Services Association explains, there is “no data that shows a well organized event is more dangerous than going to a supermarket, a cricket match or singing in the enclosed concourse at Wembley Stadium.

“It is abundantly clear that current increases in cases are not connected with live events, yet this sector is being harmed further by the delayed return to activity.”
The lasting uncertainty created by government policies has already led to the cancellation of a third of the UK’s festivals, according to data by the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF). Of the remaining events, 90% with a capacity of more than 5,000 are scheduled to take place after July 19, the UK’s updated target day for lifting all restrictions. 
However, to still go ahead as planned, they will need insurance. As AIF found in a recent survey among its 65 members, “in the event of cancellation, a third (33%) of respondents have no cash reserves to use to survive another lost year of income. 
“Those that do have reserves, have an average of £59,909. However, individual costs within the financial year average £120,856. Average costs are therefore more than double average reserves. 
“In addition, festival businesses have spent an average of £345,417 on surviving up to this point. If their festivals cannot take place, some respondents will face insolvency within weeks, and 34% of respondents state they would need to make redundancies of 75% or more, starting from mid-July.”
Euro 2020 stadiums are all hosting large crowds.
– Euro 2020 stadiums are all hosting large crowds.
Wembley Stadium wants to increase capacities to 50% for the coming fixtures. Budapest’s Puskas Arena will operate at 100% capacity throughout the tournament.

AIF CEO Paul Reed added, “We also must not forget those festivals that have already been forced to cancel or will do so as a result of the delay – they will need a swift and comprehensive financial package to help them survive until the 2022 sales cycle.”

The situation is equally desperate for the UK’s independent venues. The country’s Music Venue Trust (MVT) called the decision to delay the full-capacity reopening “a crippling blow to the sector.”
MVT data shows, that “over 4,000 shows will be cancelled, losing tens of thousands of people, many of them unable to earn for over 15 months, the chance to get back to work. 
“Huge amounts of work will need to go into rescheduling, cancellations, rebooking, refunds and managing customers, staff and artists. The delay will cost the sector £36 million, adding to the mounting pile of debt which this crisis has created.”
As MVT Mark Davyd emphasized, “the government knows all this, because Music Venue Trust has been very careful to ensure [it] had full details of the impact prior to the announcement.
“The government also knows that this delay provokes a crisis of confidence in key stakeholders within the sector, landlords, freeholders, service suppliers, creditors, which requires immediate action or we risk seeing a wave of evictions and business closures.”
Concert-goers enjoy a non-socially distanced outdoor live music event at Sefton Park on May 2, 2021 in Liverpool, England.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
– Concert-goers enjoy a non-socially distanced outdoor live music event at Sefton Park on May 2, 2021 in Liverpool, England.
“The government must understand the human impact of this decision,” said NTIA CEO Michael Kill in reaction to the delay of the UK’s reopening date.

What makes the government’s decision to delay the lifting on all forms of social gathering an even harder pill to swallow for the independent professionals working in live, is the fact that London’s Wembley Stadium, for instance, already hosted 22,500 people for Englands Euro 2020 opening match against Croatia, June 13.

Despited delaying the roadmap, the government has already indicated that coming Euro fixtures at the iconic stadium could be played in front of at least 50% of the maximum 90,000-capacity, as part of its Events Research Program.
As MVT’s Mark Davyd points out, “singing, dancing, close contact, mask free events” have been taking place right across England. “The government’s position that such activities present a unique and special danger if a live band are playing is neither believable nor supported by the science. 
“If the risk is behavioral, the government should explain how the same behaviors in different events can be either restricted or not restricted based on a government decision, and how such a decision is supported by the science.”
The UK’s Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) said prime minister Johnson’s decision to delay the roadmap effectively “switched the lights off for an entire sector.” 
NTIA CEO Michael Kill said, ‘”many businesses have not survived this pandemic and others are on a financial cliff-edge, unable to operate viably. Hundreds of thousands of jobs have already been lost, a huge pool of creative talent has been swept away, and we have been left to suffer extreme financial hardship.
“This delay will drive confidence in the sector to a new low, culminating in more of our workforce being forced to leave the industry, and customers, who have been starved of social engagement, attending illegal unregulated events in place of businesses that are well-operated, licensed and regulated.”
Many businesses are overburdened with debt, Kill continued, explaining that the only way to ensure they have a chance of survival was robust financial support and relief, which includes additional grants, exclusion from furlough contributions, extension of loan repayment holiday as well as business rates, VAT and rental payment reliefs.
And he emphasized, “The government must understand the human impact of this decision, not only considering the public health challenges of the virus but also the people within our sector who are suffering terribly and the real health risks that this represents.”