LONDON — Representatives of the U.K. live industry have welcomed new emergency funding measures to prop up the sector but warned that the “clock is ticking” to save summer festivals.
Speaking in Parliament on Wednesday (Mar. 03), Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak pledged an extra 300 million euros ($419 million) towards the U.K.’s 1.57 billion euros ($2.2 billion) Cultural Recovery Fund, supporting the music, arts and entertainment industries.
Sunak also announced an extension through September of the job-retention scheme, which pays 80% of a furloughed employee’s wages. Other measures included in the chancellor’s 2021 budget include a six-month extension to the reduced 5% VAT (sales tax) on ticket sales, as well as continued business-rate relief for venues unable to open due to the pandemic.
“Today’s budget focused on helping live music to survive the long months of closure still ahead of us,” said Greg Parmley, CEO of U.K. music trade body LIVE, “and we desperately need that.”
Last month, the U.K. became the first major music market in Europe to unveil a detailed roadmap for its live sector to return to operation. Limited-capacity concerts can return starting May 17 and all social distancing restrictions will be lifted on June 21, provided COVID-19 infection rates continue to fall and there is no let-up in the U.K.’s vaccination program.
Lucy Noble, chair of the National Arenas Association, welcomed the new measures, but said it was a “huge concern” that the government had ignored calls for an insurance scheme for promoters, venue and festival organizers, similar to COVID-related insurance schemes already in place throughout Europe.
“What the entire live sector wants is to be allowed to trade safely out of this situation,” said Noble.
According to the Association of Independent Festivals, nine out of 10 U.K. festival organizers say they cannot proceed with their events without a viable insurance scheme in place. For a festival taking place in early July, around 40% of total costs would need to be paid before mid-June and that the average cost of staging a festival in the U.K. is 6 million euros ($8.4 million), the AIF says.
Paul Reed, CEO of AIF, said that it was vital the government introduces an insurance scheme for live events by the end of March to “avoid mass cancellations throughout the U.K’s festival market.”
“The clock is ticking when it comes to staging live music events this summer,” said Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, chief executive of umbrella organization UK Music.
Glastonbury and Download festivals, which were both scheduled for June, have already cancelled their 2021 editions, although organizers for Creamfields and Reading/Leeds festivals (both scheduled for late August) have said that their events are going ahead.