Live sector welcomes freedom day on July 19 - is a festival insurance scheme set to follow?

Live sector welcomes freedom day on July 19 - is a festival insurance scheme set to follow?

Despite a false start last month, the music industry is now looking ahead to the return of live music following the latest government announcement. 

PM Boris Johnson confirmed that remaining restrictions in England will be lifted on July 19. Final confirmation will be made on July 12, although today’s announcement is intended to allow businesses to start planning.

It means the end of capacity limits at events and the reopening of nightclubs. The wearing of masks will become voluntary and the requirement for social distancing will be removed.

The announcement was welcomed by the live sector (you can see further reaction below). It follows the government’s Events Research Programme into the return of live events over the last couple of months.

Greg Parmley, CEO, LIVE, said: “The live music industry is very pleased with the Prime Minister’s statement, and it seems we will finally see a return to full capacity performances on 19 July. We have watched the rest of the economy reopen while our doors have been forced to remain closed since the start of the pandemic, but today’s announcements will generate considerable excitement amongst music fans across the country.

“To save the rest of the summer and autumn schedule we now desperately need a government-backed insurance scheme to provide the security required to invest in events. Government ministers have repeatedly said that a scheme would be announced once the legal barriers to full performances were removed. Well, we are now almost at that point and there must be no further delay if we are to reap the benefits of the superb vaccine roll-out.” 

Music Week can reveal that the next step is likely to be an announcement on an insurance scheme for music festivals, which could be announced next week. Details for the scheme and what events it could cover are being thrashed out now.

Festivals have already been cancelled because of the lack of a government-backed indemnity scheme. According to the Association of Independent Festivals, more than half of UK events have been cancelled this year.

Tim Thornhill, director of Tysers insurance brokers, has been working with LIVE and the AIF in lobbying for an indemnity scheme backed by government.

“We welcome the increased confidence that the 19 July date shows in normality resuming, which is very positive,” he told Music Week. “But we know that it doesn't give organisers confidence to continue to commit costs for shows, because there could be another variant strain or political decision that’s going to impact the viability of events taking place. So the necessity for insurance is absolutely still there, particularly because we've seen a variety of different kinds of restrictions triggered since the start of a pandemic, and we don't know if and when there will be any others.”

The issue of government-backed insurance has been key for the festival sector, with remaining events holding out for a scheme if their 2021 events are to take place.

“We’re hopeful that there's going to be an announcement soon, because we know that there have been conversations across a lot of departments in the government about the indemnity issue for events across a number of different settings - music, live events, sport, theatres,” said Thornhill. “There are going to be challenges in setting a scheme up that is one-size-fits-all. But given the amount of time and preparation and planning that’s gone in, hopefully something positive will come out in the next few weeks.”

To save the rest of the summer and autumn schedule we now desperately need a government-backed insurance scheme

Greg Parmley

Thornhill said that the proposed indemnity scheme would require the government to commit up to £300 million in order to cover around £1.1 billion of costs. But if those festivals then go ahead as planned, that could unlock about £9.1bn of economic value for the country and more than £700m in VAT receipts for the Exchequer.

He acknowledged that “time is very much pressing” and stressed the need for flexibility in ensuring that events can get provisional cover in place before the official start date of any scheme if the announcement has been made some weeks in advance.

“There's a bank holiday weekend [in August] and we wouldn’t want many of those festivals to be in jeopardy because they can't get cover in place,” he said.

However, there are concerns in the industry that the government’s commitment to the July 19 could discourage MPs from committing public funds to an insurance scheme, despite the necessity for it to ensure that some of the 2021 festival season can be salvaged.

There are also potential issues with staffing as festivals become more congested in September.

Industry reaction to PM’s statement

Paul Reed, CEO, AIF, said: “We welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and that large events including festivals are expected to be able take place from July 19. It is positive for organisers, fans and artists alike that there will be some activity this year, though clearly it is too late for the estimated 56% of UK festivals that have already been forced to cancel and are still awaiting details of emergency funding and the next round of the Culture Recovery Fund.   

"We now urge government to finally act on insurance and announce a government-backed scheme immediately. Insurance remains the key obstacle to planning with confidence and there is no rationale for not implementing such a scheme if the government's roadmap is truly irreversible.  

"We also need to ensure there is clear guidance for organisers and local authorities no later than July 12, so that events don’t unravel at a local level. We ask that government also explore solutions for staff that will be affected by test and trace and isolation policies working at events this summer.”

Mark Davyd, CEO of Music Venue Trust, said: "This is obviously extremely welcome news for millions of live music fans, for artists, crew, venues and local communities who have been deprived of music for so long. Since March 2020, Music Venue Trust’s aim has been to Reopen Every Venue Safely. We have been working alongside the grassroots music venue sector throughout to identify methods by which we can do that, regardless of any current government guidelines and resulting limitations and restrictions. The keyword for us and the sector throughout these long difficult months has been ‘safely. 

“This announcement is hugely important and provides the opportunity to revive live music. It does not, however, change the central mission or the importance of the word ‘safely’. We are re-energising our efforts to work with our fantastic network of grassroots music venues to ensure that what each of them delivers to the public meets the highest standards of covid security and safety within the new guidelines."

Phil Bowdery, chairman of Concert Promoters Association, said: “I am delighted that the government has made the right choice today, letting the much-loved live music sector get back to doing what it does best.

“While we absolutely cannot wait to safely welcome back our fans, we are missing one piece of the puzzle – insurance. We need a government backed scheme to provide the security needed to start investing in events over the coming months, shoring up our industry and stimulating the wider economy as we build back following the pandemic.”

David Keighley, chair of the Production Services Association, said: "It’s really good to hear from our Prime Minister that we can hopefully and finally get back to normal after July 19. The concert touring, festivals and events sector of our economy have been the hardest hit by Covid. We were the first to stop and we are only now being allowed to reopen. We must all be truly thankful for the vaccines as this is the reason we can almost get back to normal.”

Michael Kill, CEO, Night Time Industries Association, said: “We have been encouraged by much of what the Prime Minister said today about what government restrictions will look like in the next phase of reopening. The end of social distancing; the end of the rule of six and table service for indoor mixing; no ban on mass events; the removal of the need to scan a QR code to enter venues; and the decision not to introduce Covid status certification – these are all very important steps that we have been campaigning for, because they are the restrictions which have decimated the night time economy over the last 16 months.

“We were disappointed again, despite the positive noises, that the Prime Minister did not confirm that reopening would be going ahead on July 19. As we commented at the time of the last decision on restrictions, one week is simply not enough time for businesses to plan to reopen – and it betrays the sense that the government doesn't understand what it takes to reopen a businesses after over a year without trading.”

“To hear the Prime Minister say that we need to learn to live with this virus is a long overdue step, and will be a relief to our sector. It is difficult to overstate the significance of the impact the pandemic has had on this industry. The government’s support package has been important but insufficient. After 479 days closed, we now need that counter set to zero so we can start to rebuild.”

In Scotland, the country is set to move to protection level zero on July 19, with all other restrictions lifted on August 9. People will still be expected to wear masks while measures are being reviewed in Scotland.

The next review in Wales is on July 15, while Northern Ireland’s review is on July 8.

Subscribers can click here to read our feature on the newly-formed LIVE trade body.

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