Festivals face devastating consequences unless ministers insure event risk – MPs

Fewer than 10% of festival organisers applied for cultural pandemic support funding, according to industry data.

Festivalgoers watch Death Blooms on stage on the first day of the Download Festival pilot at Donington Park in Leicestershire
Festivalgoers watch Death Blooms on stage on the first day of the Download Festival pilot at Donington Park in Leicestershire

Festivals and freelancers in the cultural sector could face “devastating consequences to their survival” if fresh Government support is not offered, MPs have warned.

In July, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden announced a £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund (CRF) with the objective of rescuing up to 75% of arts, culture and heritage institutions and organisations at risk of financial ruin following the first national lockdown in England.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC), in its report on the fund published on Wednesday, praised the speed at which the money was allocated to 5,000 organisations in dire straits.

But MPs have urged ministers to do more to support festivals and those behind the successful running of live events, such as lighting engineers and sound technicians, which missed out on financial support from the CRF despite their income streams drying up as a result of Covid measures.

The 20-page Covid-19: Culture Recovery Fund report said the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) needed a better understanding of the fund’s “impact on freelancers, commercial organisations, supply-chain businesses and festivals”.

Criticising the lack of non-financial support offered to festivals, the committee said: “Festivals are making difficult decisions about whether to risk their survival by going ahead this summer, but the department has not modelled the cost of underwriting festival indemnity insurance.”

PAC chair Meg Hillier has urged ministers to consider underwriting the risk of festivals – a move undertaken by the Dutch government – following the cancellation of some events by promoters after the Prime Minister’s decision to delay lifting all Covid restrictions for possibly as long as a month.

The sector has warned that, without the Government bearing the insurance risk, the UK faces a litany of cancelled events for a second summer.

The push comes after a festival pilot was held on the weekend as part of a trial to kickstart a summer of live music.

The Download Festival saw fans who had tested negative for Covid-19 able to enjoy rock and metal music in Leicestershire without needing to wear face coverings or socially distance – although the capacity was significantly reduced from its normal attendance of 111,000 to around 10,000.

Latitude, which is run by Festival Republic, the company behind the Download pilot, announced on Friday it would be going ahead between July 22 and July 25 in Suffolk.

However, Lake District event Kendal Calling has cancelled its 2021 edition, due to take place from July 29 to August 31 with headliners including Stereophonics and Dizzee Rascal, citing a lack of guidance from the Government.

Labour MP Ms Hillier said: “The pandemic has exposed just how poorly departments across Government understand the sectors that they oversee.

“DCMS was clear that it ‘would not save every organisation’ but we are concerned about the impact of Covid-19 on those organisations vital to the culture sector – sound engineers, lighting and technical support.

“The Government must urgently consider support other than cash, such as insurance indemnity, or parts of the sector risk a second summer of forced inactivity with all the devastating consequences to their survival.

“This is a sector famed for making the show go on, no matter what, but it has been hammered by Covid-19 – mostly unable to operate at all for most of the last 15 months.

“If the pandemic is allowed to steal a significant part of our creative and cultural sector it will have impoverished us indeed.”

The 2021 Kendal Calling has been cancelled, with organisers citing a lack of Government guidance
The 2021 Kendal Calling has been cancelled, with organisers citing a lack of Government guidance (Scott M Salt/PA)

UK Music, the industry body which gave written evidence to the committee, said fewer than 10% of festival organisers applied for support from the culture fund.

It told MPs: “Certain types of businesses also seem to have struggled to apply for support.

“For instance, the number of festivals applying was relatively small, only 81 of the estimated 900 UK festivals applied, 51 were successful and were awarded £8.1 million.

“We are looking to work with stakeholders to understand why more did not apply.”

The body also pressed ministers to underwrite festivals to ensure they could plan with confidence, even if restrictions are extended again.

“As it stands, businesses face either going ahead in the summer without Covid cancellation cover (risking ruin if the Government imposes further restrictions) or sitting out the season entirely, as some have announced already,” UK Music said.

“Faced with that choice, it is only natural that many businesses will not go ahead regardless of the CRF funding they have received, dampening a recovery that will define the medium-term future of the sector.”

DCMS said the CRF had been used to support a “range of festivals”, including Glastonbury, Hay Literary Festival, Buxton Arts Festival and Shambala, and that officials were working “flat out” to help live events to restart safely through the Events Research Programme.

A department spokeswoman said: “Our Culture Recovery Fund – the biggest ever single investment into arts, culture and heritage – has already ensured the survival of more than 5,000 organisations, from commercial theatres to supply chain providers, protected tens of thousands of jobs and helped create work for almost a hundred thousand freelancers.

“We’re pleased this report recognises DCMS’ achievement in delivering this record investment quickly and accurately.

“More help is on the way following a £300 million boost to the Culture Recovery Fund at the Budget and we continue to explore what further support, including issues around securing insurance, may be required when the culture sector is able to reopen.”

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