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Festival cancellations inevitable without COVID insurance, warns Association of Independent Festivals CEO

Boomtown (pictured) cancelled its 2021 event after citing a lack of insurance support from the UK government

Festival cancellations are inevitable without coronavirus insurance, the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) has said.

Following the announcement of the UK government's "roadmap" to reopening the hospitality and live entertainment industries in June, the AIF warned that a number of festivals could be forced to cancel their 2021 events if they did not receive Government-backed insurance and VAT intervention before the end of March.

Earlier this week, after Winchester's Boomtown Fair announced that it had cancelled its 2021 event, directly citing a lack of insurance support from the UK government, CEO of the AIF Paul Reed said that although the festival cancellation was devestating it was "not surprising, and further festival cancellations will follow."

"AIF has been warning and providing evidence to the government for over six months on the urgent need for intervention on insurance," Reed told Music Week. "It is an enormous risk for any independent festival to commit to upfront, non-refundable costs and very difficult to plan with confidence in the absence of insurance. The average cost of staging an independent festival is over £6m.

“A recent AIF member survey revealed that 92.5% of respondents do not plan on staging their events without some form of government-backed insurance or indemnity scheme, with the measure being described as vital not optional. Considering the lengthy planning cycle of festivals, it is difficult to think anything other than we are being timed out for the summer.”

In March, Culture Minister Caroline Dinenage said that introducing a UK festival insurance scheme risks ‘pulling the rug’ from under events and offers the sector false hope. 

“The fact is, chairman, as the minister responsible for this I would much rather be able to make an announcement when I am absolutely certain things can go ahead," Dinenage told MPs, "or at least in a much better sense of predictability that things can go ahead, than announce an indemnity scheme, give people the confidence in order to pull the rug out from underneath them again. I just wouldn’t be prepared to do that.”

In January, Glastonbury’s organisers announced that the festival would not be taking place this year, and many fear that its cancellation is just the tip of the iceberg of mass postponements expected for the year as the pandemic continues.