Government’s failure to provide festivals with Covid insurance is paradoxical and disappointing
It is not too late for the government to step in with an insurance scheme for festivals. It would allow events to run without organisers shouldering the risk if we suffer another wave and they are forced to cancel again.
In an ideal world, as you read this, teenagers are preparing to head off to music festivals across the country. Meanwhile, at farms, parks and estates, musicians, technicians, food vendors and festival organisers are gearing up to greet them, intent on putting on the sort of exuberant events which are part of the modern British summer.
That said, we now live in a world which is still far from certain. Festivals were cancelled almost universally last year, and most are in two minds about operating in 2021.
There is one thing which might save the situation and that is government action in the form of a Covid indemnity plan – as commercially available insurance against the coronavirus does not yet exist - to allow organisers to take the risk of putting on these hugely popular events again.
Such schemes have been rolled out in other countries. Indeed, the government has done this for film and TV productions, so why not for music events?
The need for decisive support is clear. Earlier this month, the Association of Independent Festivals estimated a quarter of 2021 music festivals had been called off, with a further three-quarters of the rest possibly to follow. Those already cancelled include Download, British Summer Time Hyde Park and Boomtown. But it is not yet too late for the government to step in with an insurance scheme: some events could then be run.
Getting musicians and indeed the rest of the arts back to work is of paramount importance for the industry as well as the public
It’s worth remembering with the uncertainty around Covid variants and sporadic outbursts, no region is automatically in the clear. Moreover, many events – including theatre and literary - need advance planning, so we are talking not just about this summer’s festivals but many types of events stretching into 2022 and beyond. Looking ahead, specific insurance will surely be needed if we suffer another wave.
Some events are happening online. Theatre has been at the forefront and Glastonbury was off, then on, with acts performing last weekend for free at the site itself. Although as some will know there were problems on the night due to technology.
Yet online events are no substitute for live performances in front of audiences craving the chance to be part of an open-air experience. And festival organisers admit such large-scale events cannot function with social distancing.
It is not the just the public and the performers who will miss out if festivals do not go ahead. There is the effect on the local economy, including hospitality and catering, accommodation and local shops which depend on the annual influx of visitors – this year perhaps more than ever.
Calls for insurance have been coming for months. So why has the government prevaricated? It is not, it seems, a concern for the costs (that most admit are manageable). Instead, the government says it requires greater certainty, including the results of trials such as the 5,000-strong event in Liverpool. Oliver Dowden has said the government will not look at insurance until lockdown lifts on 21 June 21. Yet, this is paradoxical: insurance is urgently needed because of current uncertainty.
Getting musicians and indeed the rest of the arts back to work is of paramount importance for the industry as well as the public. Grass roots music venues have lost 75 per cent of their income during the pandemic, while those who look after the sound, lighting, and staging of events have suffered catastrophically, losing 95 per cent of their income. And this on top of the fact many freelance musicians and others working in the arts have received no support at all for more than a year, in spite of the welcome if necessary Covid relief fund and government support of the self-employed.
We all hope that the government’s roadmap out of Covid does go to plan. It will then be a bitter disappointment if all the festivals that could have taken place do not – simply through the lack of the government’s own Covid-insurance scheme.
The Earl of Clancarty is a crossbench member of the House of Lords.