UK festival sector at risk of collapsing without “urgent and ongoing support”

"This is not a temporary shutdown of business - it is an entire year of income and trade wiped out."

Independent music festivals in Britain are at risk of collapsing after coronavirus forced many to cancel their 2020 editions, a new report has warned.

The Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), which represents festivals including 2000trees and Meltdown, has warned that a whole host of events are failing to qualify for the same financial support which has been afforded to businesses during the pandemic and lockdown.

According to the AIF, some 92% of its members warn they face ruinous costs as a result of cancelled events, with the vast majority (98.5%) not covered by insurance for cancellation as a result of coronavirus.

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Extensive costs are said to include refunds of up to £800million for ticket-holders and costs of over £300,000 for staffing, marketing and advertising.

According to The Guardian, the independent festival sector could face redundancies of 59% on average and is set to lose more than half of its workforce between September 2020 and February 2021 without government support.

The AIF is now calling for a continuation of all employment (furloughing and self-employed) schemes in their original form and business support packages until the festival industry can get to the planning and sales stage of 2021 events.

It is also calling for guidance about when festivals will be able to operate, and any social distancing measures that would be expected in order to maintain public safety.

“While the Government has been receptive to AIF’s counsel, it has not taken meaningful action to protect our sector,” said AIF CEO Paul Reed. “Single event festival companies are seasonal businesses. They need urgent support now and ongoing support after lockdown ends and restrictions are eased.

“This is not a temporary shutdown of business – it is an entire year of income and trade wiped out. If support is not offered throughout the autumn, then the sector will face widespread job losses that will seriously inhibit its ability to deliver events in 2021.”

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General Secretary of The Association of Festival Organisers Steve Heap echoed similar fears to NME last week, with 87 per cent of their 250+ members cancelling events for summer 2020. He described the temporary furlough scheme “of no use to an event that is not going to take any money until next July”.

“If the government wants the events industry to survive, they’re going to seriously have to consider how they’re going to fund it into next season,” he told NME. “But then there’s the possibility that one could still be expected to social distance next year and the festival season would still be in trouble.”

Glastonbury 2019 crowd
The crowd at Glastonbury 2019 pre-social distancing measures CREDIT: Ki Price/Getty Images

The calls by the AIF come after festivals across the UK including Glastonbury and Reading & Leeds announced their 2020 cancellations.

UK festival organisers have also cast doubt over the prospect of running mass gatherings with social distancing measures in place – as well the chances of any festivals being possible before 2021.

Speaking to NME, Isle of Wight Festival boss John Giddings said: “I think it’s ludicrous. Once you give someone a couple of drinks, they’ll start having the best time with all these people. With social distancing you can only fit 15 people on a double decker bus, how is that economically viable? It’s the same for festivals.

“We pay a million pounds in policing and security for the Isle Of Wight Festival already. How would it be possible to enforce people standing two metres apart? I just can’t see it.”

He added: “If everything’s not OK by next year then we’re all out of business. We can survive one year, but not two. I feel for a lot of people in trouble. Still, I remain optimistic. When times are hard, people turn to entertainment.”

A number of UK venues also spoke to NME about their concerns and requirements if socially-distanced indoor gigs were to be allowed, with the Music Venue Trust detailing that a number of safe and financially viable solutions were being discussed.

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