Government won’t explore festival insurance until lockdown lifts, says culture secretary

"I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect the taxpayer to provide a full indemnity for all those events if it’s not possible for them to happen"

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden has said that the government won’t be exploring insurance schemes for festivals until after lockdown restrictions lift in June.

At present, insurance companies are refusing to cover coronavirus-related cancellations, meaning that festivals face huge financial losses and risk bankruptcy if they have to cancel last-minute.

So far, over a quarter of UK festivals over 5,000 capacity have been cancelled this summer due to a lack of insurance.

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During a DCMSC committee meeting yesterday (May 13), Conservative MP Heather Wheeler asked Dowden for an update on whether or not the government would be offering insurance to festivals.

In his response, Dowden said the UK was “well on track” to reach Stage Four of lockdown restrictions lifting on June 21, and that the government would then “look at” if assistance was still needed for music festivals.

“It has to be the case first that we know [if] something can go ahead,” he said, before adding later: “I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect the taxpayer to provide a full indemnity for all those events if it’s not possible for them to happen.”

Wheeler pointed out that it would likely then be too late for organisers due to the months of planning it takes to put a festival on.

“This would have been a very cheap deal to have been done, because the government are confident that 21 June is D-Day… in which case, you didn’t need to spend any money on insurance,” she told Dowden. “But it’s too late for the planning for so many of these summer festivals. It’s just too late.”

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Elsewhere, the Dutch government has vowed to back up their festivals as part of a €300m scheme which was confirmed in February.

While a number of UK live music events, including Reading and Leeds festival in August, announced plans to go ahead shortly after the government revealed its roadmap out of lockdown back in February, 26 per cent of all UK festivals over 5,000 capacity will not go ahead.

The Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), which provided the research, issued a “red alert” earlier this month after talks with the government about festival insurance hit a “brick wall”.

AIF CEO Paul Reed told NME: “We’re issuing a red alert because many festivals will be reaching the point where they decide whether to go ahead, and we’ve had crisis meetings with many other festivals who have already had to sadly cancel.

“It’s extremely frustrating because it does feel like we’ve hit a bit of a brick wall with this issue. We’ve been providing evidence to government for over six months now on the urgent need for intervention and we’ve provided every shred of evidence and we’ve pointed them towards the various governments across Europe that have intervened in this way.”

According to the AIF’s latest figures, an estimated 131 festivals over 5,000 capacity still scheduled to go ahead at some point in 2021 as things currently stand. Many of those events taking place in July and August will need to commit to substantial, non-refundable costs by the end of May.

Meanwhile, Live Nation sold 170,000 tickets in the three days following the government’s roadmap announcement, with Reading selling out entirely for 2021.

Much anticipation surrounds the return of live music following a year of inaction due to the coronavirus pandemic, especially after this month’s COVID pilot test events for clubbing and a small festival set-up featuring Blossoms, The Lathums and Zuzu.

The Music Venue Trust has found that over 28,500 shows have been booked for grassroots music venues this summer, if allowed to go ahead.

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