UK music festivals urge govt action to save summer events

Callum PATON, Joe JACKSON
·3-min read
Glastonbury Festival in full swing last year. The annual musical event generates over £100 million for the economy of the southwest of England, according to UK Music

Organisers of British music festivals on Tuesday said the coronavirus pandemic had devastated the industry and warned that events could disappear for good without more government support.

Giving evidence to a UK parliamentary committee, organisers and representatives of the multi-billion pound summer festival industry said a government-backed insurance scheme was crucial to events going ahead in 2021.

They also encouraged ministers to set a clear decision-making timetable, to give festivals enough time to prepare for this year's events.

"If we get as far as Easter (in early April) and we still don't know that crowds can gather at festivals -- however large or small -- then we're in a catastrophic situation," Steve Heap, of the Association of Festival Organisers, told lawmakers.

He added that a recent survey of members showed nearly half needed to know if 2021 events could go ahead in the first three months of the year.

Sacha Lord, co-founder of the annual Parklife festival in Manchester, northwest England, said organisers as well as freelancers and contractors involved in supply chains could all be "wiped out" without this year's events.

"If we don't take place in 2021 I think the vast majority could disappear," he added.

- 'Existential crisis' -

Britain -- one of the countries worst affected by the global health crisis, with over 75,000 deaths -- has seen its £5.8-billion ($7.9-billion, 6.4-billion-euro) music industry hit hard by the pandemic.

A series of nationwide lockdowns, the most recent of which was announced on Monday evening, and months of other restrictions to curb the close-contact spread of the virus have shuttered music venues.

In July, the music sector was given a lifeline of £250 million from the government's £1.6-billion Cultural Recovery Fund to help keep the arts afloat during the outbreak.

But every year, thousands of Britons and tourists flock to the country's summer music festivals, which take months of planning and now appear increasingly endangered.

An umbrella organisation for the music industry echoed organisers' concerns in a report released Tuesday, noting summer events were in an "existential crisis" due to Covid-19.

"There is a real threat that the vast majority of the 2021 season will not happen either," the organisation said, noting they were "pillars of our culturally rich live music scene and showcase an incredible variety of musical genres".

The country's famous Glastonbury music festival, for instance, generates over £100 million for the economy of the southwest of England, UK Music said.

Music festivals as a whole employ 85,000 people directly each year, it said.

UK Music joined the calls for an approximate date for when venues might be able to reopen and for the creation of a government-backed reinsurance scheme for the sector.

It noted similar schemes have been launched in Germany and Austria.

"Insurance is the most critical factor that will enable us to plan festivals," Paul Reed, chief executive of the Association of Independent Festivals, added at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport hearing.

"It is the key to unlocking everything else."

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