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UK festivals call for urgent government support following lockdown easing delay

Most of the UK's remaining festivals planned for this summer are at risk of cancellation without government intervention

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

The government has so far been reluctant to offer the UK's festival sector assurances on an events insurance scheme that might allow organisers to press ahead with their plans for this summer, safe in the knowledge that they would be able to recoup their losses on advance costs should there be further delays to the UK's so-called 'Freedom Day'. Following Boris Johnson's announcement yesterday (June 14th), the UK government has now set July 19th as the new date for social distancing measures to be relaxed.

Announcing the delay to the full relaxation of social distancing measures and unrestricted reopening of events, Johnson said 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, particularly in light of the spread of the Delta variant of the virus.

In May, the AIF issued a “red alert” for this summer's festivals, saying it had hit a “brick wall” in talks with the government after a lack of a scheme began to trigger event cancellations festival insurance. Research the organisation gathered showed that 26% of all UK festivals with a capacity of 5,000 or more had announced that they would not be able to go ahead this year.

New AIF analysis suggests that, with the easing of restrictions pushed back to July 19th, 93% of remaining UK festivals with a capacity of 5,000 or more could still potentially go ahead this summer. They will need assurances of an insurance scheme to press forward and incur the advance costs required to stage a festival however, including security, staging and booking talent.

Most costs for a festival are incurred a month before the event, and the average cost of staging a festival is over £6million, the AIF says. If mass cancellations do happen, the organisations says UK festivals will require a comprehensive rescue package and contingency fund that must be made immediately available to carry them over to 2022.

“The AIF fully understands the rationale for delaying Step Four 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.

“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.”

Read DJ Mag's recent feature on how a return to clubs and festivals might work in a post-pandemic society here.