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‘Too late’: UK live events sector promised Covid insurance scheme

·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Richard Isaac/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Richard Isaac/Rex/Shutterstock

The battered live events sector, from summer music festivals to business conferences and boat shows, has finally been promised a Covid cancellation insurance scheme.

Campaigners have long been pleading for insurance support to help the sector get back on its feet, because commercial insurers have not provided cover for Covid-related cancellations. While welcomed, the announcement comes far too late for a string of festivals and events that have already been abandoned.

The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, said it was a partnership with Lloyd’s for a “live events reinsurance scheme” worth more £750m.

The Treasury said: “This scheme will support live events across the UK that are open to the general public. It will cover costs incurred in the event of cancellation due to the event being legally unable to happen due to government Covid restrictions.”

Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, the chief executive of UK Music, said the scheme was good news but that the sector had been warning about the dangers for months. “The inability to obtain insurance has already caused many cancellations this summer – these have been devastating for the entire music industry and there were fears that without action we would have seen major cancellations continuing well into next year too.”

For that reason, the scheme was “incredibly welcome news”, he said, “not just for the millions of music fans who have been looking forward to the return of live events, but also for the tens of thousands of musicians, crew members and wider supply chain workers whose jobs depend on continued live activity”.

The Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) has estimated that a quarter of festivals with a capacity of more than 5,000 people have already been cancelled because of government inaction on event insurance.

They include the Shambala in Northamptonshire and Womad, a co-founder of which, Peter Gabriel, directly blamed the government’s then refusal to provide insurance support.

Paul Reed, the chief executive of AIF, said his trade organisation had been campaigning for the scheme for more than a year. “We are pleased that government has listened, and we welcome this intervention to address the insurance market failure,” he said. “It is positive that festival organisers will now have an option for Covid cancellation.”

Sacha Lord, the co-founder of the Parklife festival and the night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, said he too was grateful for the support. “The events sector has been in dire straits throughout this crisis and this move will not only save hundreds of upcoming events, but will support the thousands of freelancers behind the scenes who depend on the sector for their own livelihoods.

“We can start to rebuild the sector with confidence, and renew the UK’s status as a global leader in entertainment and cultural events.”

But it was bittersweet news for Chris Smith, the Womad festival director. “What can you say that’s not offensive?” he said when asked for his reaction. “Anything to support the industry going forward is a positive, but it has come too late for so many organisations like ours who have lost the summer and need not have done. It is just another blow really that more could have been done.”

Julian Knight, the Conservative chair of the digital, culture, media and sport committee, said his committee had been calling for the safety net since January. “Though it is a shame that it has come too late for some this summer, this scheme will provide the confidence the sector needs to plan and invest in future events,” he added.

Lesley Robinson, the chief executive of British Marine, which organises the Southampton international boat show, said the announcement could not have come at a more critical point. It was, she said, “the news that we, and the entire events industry have been desperately calling for, so we welcome this scheme”.

The new cover was welcome, although she cautioned: “It does come at a significant premium, which … will impact heavily on our ability to generate surpluses that in our case are reinvested entirely in our industry.”

Live Nation UK, one of the world’s leading live events companies, behind festivals including Leeds, Reading and the Isle of Wight, said the intervention was a vital one: “This is very welcome news and will help keep the sector and its employees working.”

The Treasury said the live events sector was worth more than £70bn annually to the UK economy and supports more than 700,000 jobs. Announcing the scheme. Sunak said he knew events organisers were “raring to go” now that Covid restrictions have been lifted.

“But the lack of the right kind of insurance is proving a problem, so as the economy reopens, I want to do everything I can to help events providers and small businesses plan with confidence right through to next year,” he said.

“We have some of the best events in the world here in the UK – from world-famous festivals to your local fair. With this new insurance scheme, everything from live music in Margate to business events in Birmingham can go ahead with confidence.”

The culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, said: “Our events industries are not just vital for the economy and jobs, they put Britain on the map and, thanks to this extra support, will get people back to the experiences that make life worth living.”

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