UK festivals call for urgent intervention as June 21 reopening delayed by a month

Most of the country's remaining festivals are at risk of cancellation if they don't receive help from the government

The Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) has called for an urgent intervention from the UK government for festivals after the easing of coronavirus restrictions was delayed by a month.

Tonight (June 14), Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the date of June 21, in which all coronavirus restrictions would be lifted in England, will now be delayed until July 19.

The PM told a press conference that they had seen “more infection and more hospitalisation” of late, with the Delta variant of COVID-19 spreading faster than the third wave that was predicted when the roadmap was first drawn up back in February.

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He said that there was a “real possibility that the virus would outrun the vaccine” and cause “thousands more deaths” unless the country waited longer to meet all four steps for the final stage of reopening.

In May the AIF issued a “red alert” and said it had hit a “brick wall” in talks with the government after a lack of festival insurance sparked the widespread cancellation of events this summer. Research it had gathered showed that 26 per cent of all UK festivals over 5,000 capacity had announced that they would not be able to go ahead this year.

It was thought that organisers were reluctant to shell out huge sums for festivals without COVID insurance as they ran the risk of financial ruin if the roadmap out of lockdown was delayed and prevented events from taking place. Now that the re-opening of the country has been delayed, the AIF has said that without government help most of the UK’s remaining 2021 festivals are likely to be cancelled.

AIF analysis suggests that, with the easing of restrictions pushed back to July 19, 93 per cent of remaining UK festivals over 5,000-capacity could still potentially go ahead this summer – but not without insurance. Most costs for a festival are incurred a month before the event, and the average cost of staging a festival is over £6million.

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson has announced that the reopening of the UK has now been pushed back. CREDIT: Hannah McKay – WPA Pool/Getty Images

A recent AIF member survey suggested that, in the event of cancellation, a third of respondents have no cash reserves to use to survive another lost year of income. Those that do have reserves have an average of £59,909. However, individual costs within the financial year average £120,856. Average costs are therefore more than double average reserves.

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In addition, festival businesses have spent an average of £345,417 on surviving up to this point. If their festivals cannot take place, some respondents will face insolvency within weeks, and 34 per cent of respondents state they would need to make redundancies of 75 per cent or more, starting from mid-July.

In the event of mass cancellations, UK festivals will require a swift and comprehensive rescue package and targeted contingency fund that can be accessed from July 2021 to save businesses and ensure they can survive until the 2022 sales cycle.

“The AIF fully understands the rationale for delaying Step 4 of the lockdown roadmap,” AIF CEO Paul Reed said in a statement. “However, any measures that prevent festivals from operating fully have to be counterbalanced with effective support to ensure businesses can survive.

“For those festival organisers that still have a chance of staging events after July 19, that support is government-backed insurance, which will give them the confidence to continue planning and commit the significant costs that entails. Ultimately, it is a political choice if the government does not support the sector with insurance at this stage, pushing festival businesses towards another cliff edge.”

He continued: “We also must not forget those festivals that have already been forced to cancel or will do so as a result of the delay – they will need a swift and comprehensive financial package to help them survive until the 2022 sales cycle.

“AIF and its industry partners remain ready and willing to work with the government on the details of a support package that will save British businesses.”

Meanwhile, bosses from some of England’s most beloved grassroots music venues have spoken of their fear and frustration, with approximately £36million set to be lost as a result of the easing of coronavirus restrictions being delayed by four weeks.

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