A damning report has placed the blame for a second “lost summer” of British music festivals directly on the U.K. government and its failure to create an insurance scheme for organizers.
After hearing from a range of expert witnesses, including Massive Attack vocalist Robert Del Naja and chief executive of the Notting Hill Carnival Matthew Phillip, the cross-party committee of MPs that form the House of Commons’ Committee for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport concluded that the government’s refusal to create or back an insurance scheme for British music festivals has directly resulted in a dearth of events this summer, with potentially devastating consequences for the future of the industry.
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Insurance remains one of the last major hurdles for the return of live music, with insurers reportedly unlikely to offer any COVID-19-related cancellation cover until 2022 at the earliest.
Since May 17, outdoor performances have been permitted at 50% capacity (or maximum 4,000 people, whichever is lower) but Britain remains in semi-lockdown, with restrictions on larger scale events — such as music festivals, nightclubs and weddings — set to lift on June 21.
According to the report, the government has ruled out backing any kind of insurance scheme before that time, especially since the emergence of new global COVID-19 variants means that the date for a full lockdown easing could still potentially be delayed.
However, even if a U.K. lockdown does completely lift on June 21, it will come too late for the majority of festivals, which require months, if not years, of planning. Over 25% of festivals with capacity of over 5,000 people have reportedly already canceled their events for a second year running.
These include Glastonbury, Britain’s best-known music festival, which resorted instead to holding a ticket-only livestream last weekend, although it was plagued by technical difficulties.
Download Festival, which features predominantly rock and metal acts, was canceled in March but organizers announced this week that a three-day version of the festival — operating at 10% of its usual 110,000 capacity — will go ahead as part of a government pilot scheme aimed at bringing back large-scale events.
However, there is fear that smaller, independent festivals will be unable to survive a second year of cancellations, with knock-on effects hitting the predominantly freelance workforce that create and staff them. The report said a number of freelancers, including scaffolders, sound engineers and technicians have already pivoted to different industries, such as construction, to stay afloat, and there is a risk they may never return.
“Music festivals have been treated as the poor relation by the government,” said Committee Chair Julian Knight MP. “It has been made very clear to us that the vast majority of music festivals do not have the financial resilience to cover the costs of another year of late-notice cancellations. If the commercial insurance market won’t step in, ministers must, and urgently: events need to know now whether the government will back them, or they simply won’t take place this year.”
“We repeat our call for the government to announce an insurance scheme to cover festival organizers if events need to be canceled as a result of COVID-19 restrictions continuing beyond June 21,” Knight added. “There’s still time to get the music playing, but no more room for excuses.”
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