Immediate action must be taken to save the UK’s music festivals from another “lost summer” due to Covid, a cross-party committee of MPs has said.
Ministers must create a government-backed insurance scheme for festivals as soon as possible, given their long lead times, a report from the Commons digital, culture, media and sport committee argued, saying even now it would be too late for many events.
Another summer without income would not only cause the demise of many smaller festivals, but could threaten the long-term future of the sector as companies in the supply chain also close down and skilled specialist staff move to other jobs.
The problems had been exacerbated by a lack of access to the government’s culture recovery fund and by the fact no festivals were included in the series of pilot schemes designed to test the viability of mass events, the committee said.
Music festivals had been “treated as the poor relation by the government”, said the committee chair, the Conservative MP Julian Knight, despite the sector – which in a normal year stages nearly 1,000 events – contributing £1.76bn to the UK economy and supporting 85,000 jobs.
“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,” he said.
“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. There’s still time to get the music playing, but no more room for excuses.”
The committee’s report warns that while the government’s plan to exit lockdown includes the prospect of most distancing measures being removed in England on 21 June, it might not be known if this will happen until a week before, which is far too late for festivals to plan.
Of events taking place in early July, they will have paid out 40% of their costs by 14 June, and more than a quarter of festivals with a capacity of more than 5,000 have already been cancelled for 2021.
The industry has been calling for months for an insurance scheme similar to that offered to the film and TV industries, which allowed production to restart earlier in the pandemic.
Despite this, the report says, the government has “refused to take multiple opportunities to address the market failure in the provision of insurance for live events this summer and set the conditions to unlock the significant economic and cultural contribution made by festivals and their supply chains”.
One long-term impact could be further consolidation in the sector, the report said, with smaller, independent festivals being replaced or bought up by two big firms, Live Nation and AEG Presents, which already operate nearly a third of events with 5,000-plus attendances. This could in turn affect pricing and diversity, it added.
Another knock-on effect of most festivals again being cancelled this year could be what the report called a “permanent skills gap”, with many of the companies that supply services to festivals closing and staff or freelancers changing jobs.
A government spokesperson said: “We are continuing to work flat out to support festivals and live events. Our Events Research Programme has explored how festivals can get back up and running safely and festival organisers have received more than £34m from our unprecedented Culture Recovery Fund, with more support on the way.
“We will continue to look at what assistance may be required as we move cautiously but irreversibly through the roadmap, including looking at the issue of indemnity cover.”