‘We Need Action Now’: UK Independent Festivals Sound The Alarm

Charlie Rimmer
The Nozstock The Hidden Valley festival main stage by night in 2019. The festival’s 2024 edition will be its last. (Picture by Charlie Rimmer)

The UK’s Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) has launched a new campaign, once again calling on politicians to reduce the VAT rate on festival tickets, which “would save many event promoters from closures in 2024,” according to the association.

The campaign is called “5% For Festivals.” According to AIF, it “is an awareness campaign that seeks to inform festival-goers about the problems that music festival promoters have faced over the last five years, encouraging them to contact their MPs to lobby for a much needed VAT reduction on tickets.”

Speaking at the AIF’s Festival Congress in Bristol, England, Feb. 1, the organization’s CEO John Rostron warned that more festivals would be forced to shut down this year, “if decisive action is not taken.”

AIF research suggests that at least 36 festivals cancelled before they were due to take place in 2023. The number one reason was the economic pressures between sales and costs, which chimes with what Rostron laid out in a recent interview with Pollstar.

This trend has continued into 2024, with six UK festivals having announced some form of cancellation this year: NASS Festival, Leopollooza, and Long Division all called time after their 2023 editions.

Bluedot and Barn On The Farm will not be taking place this year, and hope conditions improve for them to return in 2025. Nozstock The Hidden Valley will make its 2024 edition its last.

See: NASS & Nozstock Highlight The Pressure On UK Festivals

John Rostron credit Jody Hartley
AIF CEO John Rostron. (Picture by Jody Hartley)

The problem stems from the lockdowns three years ago, which prevented festivals from going ahead. Festivals returned in 2022 on tickets that had rolled-over since 2019, sold for a price based on 2019’s costs and budgets. By the time promoters actually delivered the events in 2022, post-pandemic effects, and Brexit had caused costs to increase dramatically, according to the AIF “by an average of 30%.”

Since promoters did not ask audiences to pay more on top of the tickets they had bought in 2019, many made a loss.

Since 2022, the financial pressures have only been compounded by inflation, war, and energy cost increases.

“Without having had a single steady season since the pandemic in which to recover, festivals are under more financial strain than ever,” AIF sums it up.

As the association and other live players in the UK have been pointing out for years, a temporary solution from the UK government would be to lower the value added tax charged on every ticket sale from 20% to 5%, ideally for the next three years, It’s “all that’s needed to give promoters the space they need to rebuild,” says AIF.

AIF’s 5% For Festivals campaign includes a new website that outlines the problems promoters are facing and gives festival-goers tools to write to their MPs about the VAT reduction.

Mixed News From UK/Europe: Live Is Back, But At What Cost?

AIF CEO John Rostron commented, “We really are at a critical point for the UK’s festival sector. Five years ago, it would have been impossible to imagine that promoters would have to endure something as damaging as the Covid-19 pandemic – but many of them did, without passing the inevitable cost onto the consumer. To think that, since then, they have had to manage the effects of Brexit, war in Ukraine, inflation and an energy crisis is staggering. That festival-goers were able to enjoy some of the fantastic events they did in 2023 is testament to the resilience and passion of those promoters. But we lost 36 festivals last year, and with six festivals having postponed activity in 2024 or closed the gates for good, we are on track to see well over double the number of casualties this year.

“UK festivals need time to recover and rebuild. They need help from our Government. A reduction in VAT on festival tickets from 20% to 5% for three years is an evidence-based, simple, sensible remedy that would ease the financial burden on promoters enough for them to return to health. We need this action now.”

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