Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images – The partial solar eclipse of June 10 seen behind a Union Jack flag at the Houses of Parliament in London, England.
Many of the country’s live professionals have come together to sue the UK government over its lack of actions with regards to helping out the live sectors, which have been hardest by the coronavirus restrictions.
The UK’s live music industry body LIVE and a range of the country’s theater businesses today announced that they have commenced legal proceedings against the UK government to force it to hand over the findings gained from its Events Research Programme (ERP) and take action on an event insurance scheme in order to avoid losing an entire summer of events for a second year running.
For over a year now, professionals across the UK and Europe have been demanding that their governments outline the scientific basis for singling out the live entertainment industry and hitting it with the harshest restrictions of all economic sectors.
The UK is no exception, its live music and theater producers have been working diligently and at their own expense to realize pilot events and produce the scientific data proving that their shows don’t pose the kind of health risk that would justify being singled out in such a manner.
Anthony Devlin/Getty Images – Liverpool, England hosted 6,000 clubbers at the Bramley-Moore Dock warehouse, April 30, 2021 as part of the UK’s Events Research Programme.
The findings of the program have yet to be published, which is one of the main reason, the UK live entertainment industries decided to take legal action.
So far, none of the research findings have been made available by the UK government. Local new reports from Liverpool, however, confirmed that at least the events in the local area had “no impact” on virus spread. The Liverpool Echo, for instance, concluded, “the public health and science teams are cautiously optimistic that events can reopen reasonably safely with effective testing in place.”
This confirms what other countries have been finding after running their own scientific experiments, including Germany
, The Netherlands
Despite the clear scientific evidence demonstrating how live events at full capacity can go ahead safely, the government chose to delay its target date for lifting all restrictions on social gatherings from June 21 to July 19.
At the same time, restrictions on the Euro 2020 soccer matches taking place at Wembley Stadium in London are being lifted much more willingly by the decision makers: from 22,500 at the opening match, June 13, to some 45,000 or around half of the stadium’s capacity for the upcoming round-of-16 match against Germany, June 29, and up to 60,000 for the semi-final and final match, July 11.
In addition to refusing to publish the details of the ERP, the government is also being sued for failing to act on an insurance scheme for the sector, which would guarantee mitigations should the sector be forced to shut down again due to government mandates in reaction to coronavirus.
Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images – An empty Royal Albert Hall prepares for its 150th anniversary, March 29, 2021.
The UK’s large and small venues alike have been struggling under the coronavirus restrictions.
The four-week delay in reopening will hit the industry hard. Industry research provided by LIVE indicates that around 5,000 live music gigs as well as numerous theater productions across the country will be cancelled as a result, equating to millions of pounds in lost income.
The government is well aware of this, as its own ERP economic impact assessments, leaked by Politico
this week, show. Not only do the leaks expose that “the pilots didn’t find a serious spike in COVID transmission — at one point there were just 15 cases across the whole program,” they also prove that the UK government is well-aware, that “keeping any measures would cost the economy billions and see many businesses close.”
According to LIVE data, UK live entertainment and theatre generate £11.25 billion ($15.7 billion) in Gross Value Added each year, supporting just under one million jobs between them. And while some of these jobs have received money from the UK’s Culture Recovery Fund, a lot fell through the cracks, in particular in the commercial theater sector.
Musical composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, who owns several theaters in the London, had threatened legal steps against government earlier this month. Referring to the pilot events carried out in the UK so far, he said, “theaters are completely safe, the virus is not carried there. If the Government ignore their own science, we have the mother of all legal cases against them. If Cinderella couldn’t open, we’d go, ‘Look, either we go to law about it or you’ll have to compensate us’.”
Katja Ogrin/Getty Images – A fan dressed as Jesus crowd surfs during the Download PILOT festival at Donington Park, England, June 20, 2021.
Pilot events like these should have assured politicians by now that large gatherings of people can be hosted in a safe way.
The UK government actually offered to include the preview of Webber’s latest musical, Cinderella, June 25, in its ERP, but Webber refused.
Instead of publishing the findings available so far, the government has just announced a third round of pilots. According to LIVE, “it is clear that these pilots are little more than a way of allowing certain high-profile events to go ahead, primarily large-scale sporting events, while keeping the rest of the sector shut.”
Which is why, in today’s legal action, the parties from live music and theater, “assert that the Government has flagrantly breached the ‘duty of candor’ which requires it to be transparent when faced with a legal challenge and that none of the reasons given for withholding the Events Research Programme material they seek withstand scrutiny.”
The parties have asked the Court to consider their application at an urgent hearing as soon as possible.
Tim P. Whitby – WPA Pool/Getty Images – Andrew Lloyd Webber at how own Theatre Royal in London, England, June 23, 2021.
Webber has been vocal about the safety of events at theaters throughout the coronavirus crisis.
Andrew Lloyd Webber commented: “Last week I rejected the Government’s invitation for Cinderella to be singled out as a last-minute part of the Events Research Programme. Today, with a range of voices from across the theatre and live entertainment industries, we are forced to take it further. We simply must now see the data that is being used to strangle our industry so unfairly.
“The Government’s actions are forcing theatre and music companies off a cliff as the summer wears on, whilst cherry-picking high-profile sporting events to go ahead. The situation is beyond urgent.”
Stuart Galbraith, CEO of Kilimanjaro Live and co-founder of LIVE, said: “The live music industry has been very willing to work with Government for the last year to show that our industry can operate safely. But it is intolerable that after running pilot shows for the Government’s Events Research Programme, at our own cost, we have been blocked from seeing the results, leaving the whole sector in limbo with the real chance that the entire summer could collapse for the second year running.
“Even now, the live music sector has no idea what the rest of the summer brings, and we are left with a complete inability to plan ahead due to the Government’s continued unwillingness to provide some form of insurance to enable events to move forward.”
English singer and songwriter icon, as well as WOMAD Festival co-founder Peter Gabriel commented: “Without immediate government intervention, the festival industry is on the brink of collapse. That doesn’t mean cash, it means providing the certainty to enable us to deliver festivals, guidance on safety, and an understanding of how their timing affects us in the real world.
“At the end of this week, WOMAD will be faced with one very difficult and heart-wrenching decision. Millions of pounds of investment and the livelihood of around five thousand people are at stake. Several pilot events have been successfully run over recent months. But, like other festival teams, we need to be told what that research means for WOMAD. We struggle to understand why these trials took place if the Government can’t now tell us the results and how that will affect all of us.”
The ERP findings won’t just form the basis for reopening businesses come July 19, but also to ensure that live entertainment will not once again be the first to shut down should there be a Covid resurgence over the winter.
Paul Harries – Stuart Galbraith.
CEO of Kilimanjaro Live and co-founder of LIVE.
“Covid certification, plus simple mitigation measures in venues, mean that events can be run safely,” LIVE sums it up, adding three more points that the theatre and live music sectors need from government now, in order to be able to plan for a reopening from July 19:
“1. Insurance – the live entertainment industry has been pleading with the Government for more than 9 months to help address the market failure in the provision of commercial Covid cancellation cover. The Government was willing to do this for the film and TV industry but will not step in in the same way for music, theatre and events. Without it, the risk of running activity is too high for many to be able to go forward.
“2. Quarantine – the tiny number of productions that are running at reduced capacity, or are in rehearsals, are dropping daily as they are forced to close after a single positive test, even when everyone else in a cast tests negative. The Government has said that it is considering moving to a ‘daily testing’ regime, such as that undertaken recently by Michael Gove, but live entertainment needs it now.
“3. Guidance – the live entertainment industry has been told that there will be new Stage 4 live events guidance. But people are cancelling events due to take place post 19 July because they do not know what the on-going restrictions or requirements are going to be. Guidance should be made available now.”
Theater producer Cameron Mackintosh commented: “Having been forced to close our theaters twice last year, the second time after the government encouraged reopening for Christmas, losing further millions as a result, a joint insurance scheme to protect us against another enforced closure is vital.
“Along with most of the commercial theatre we have had absolutely no direct financial help either for our productions or the upkeep of our historic theaters. Opening without any sort of protection is impossible for many producers, live event organizers and theatre buildings across the country.
“Having contributed huge amounts of money to the exchequer over the last few decades, the theatre desperately needs to be supported in its hour of need or the government will be responsible for the disintegration of one of this country’s most priceless and irreplaceable assets after centuries of being the envy of the world.”
David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images – Theater producer Sonia Friedman posing at a photocall to celebrate the opening of “Walden” at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London, England, May 27, 2021.
Friedman said, the UK government displayed “a wilful lack of understanding of the extraordinary value of the theatre industry.”
Theater producer Sonia Friedman said: “The Government continues to display a wilful lack of understanding of the extraordinary value of the theatre industry, and the way in which we operate. We can only fully reopen once. We need absolute clarity on when and how we can fully reopen – to bring a show back to full production takes months in planning to rehearse and to build a box office advance.
“It is also incumbent on the Government to underwrite the potential losses riding on its words and provide an insurance scheme to theatre and live entertainment that it, readily and rightly, provided to the film and television industries. Right now, the government’s delay and lack of provision and support for the commercial sector has prohibited our reopening in full, but its dithering and lack of clarity is preventing us even being able to make a plan as to how we move forward to save the industry that we love.”
Craig Hassall, CEO of London’s Royal Albert Hall, said: “The chronic uncertainty and endless indecisiveness from government, and pilot events with no published results, have damaged audience confidence and further harmed a sector that has already been decimated by the pandemic.
“For as long as venues like the Royal Albert Hall, and hundreds more across the country, are prevented from effectively operating with no justification, we cannot play our part in supporting the critical ecosystem of freelancers, small businesses and suppliers who rely on us and who are so desperately in need of work.”
Mark Davyd, CEO of the UK’s Music Venue Trust, has been in constant talks with decision makers, explaining the economics of the venue and promotions business and emphasizing that without the ERP data and evidence it would not be possible for the grassroots venues sector to plan events. The legal action was “the inevitable outcome of the government’s refusal to work with the sector to create evidenced based secure events, and we reluctantly agree with the necessity to pursue it. The ball is firmly in the government’s court; it is their refusal to work with the cultural sector that has resulted in this action,” he commented.
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