UK Music Outlines Plan To Save Summer Festival Season

UK Music has put forward a comprehensive plan on ways to get the live music sector back on its feet, specifically with the summer music festival season in mind.

“Live music is the beating heart of the UK music industry,” said UK Music chief executive, Jamie Njoku-Goodwin. “It generates billions of pounds for the economy every year, supports thousands of jobs across the country, and draws millions of music tourists to all four corners of the UK.

In addition to the economic impact, it also has huge social and cultural benefits. The UK’s vibrant live music scene has given us a global reputation, and the music industry as a whole was set to be one of the British success stories of the 2020s.

Covid-19 has put much of that at risk. The pandemic has had a devastating impact across the industry, and live music has been one of the biggest casualties.

“However, as we argue in this report, the devastation caused by Covid-19 does not have to be permanent,” he stressed. “We were a growing and thriving industry before the pandemic hit, and with the right support we can be that successful and self-reliant industry again.”

In this report, UK Music highlights the vital role live music plays in our communities and lays out the stark challenges it has faced over the course of the pandemic.

UK Music argues that the music industry will have a key role to play in the post-pandemic economic and cultural recovery, and therefore it is in the national interest for the sector to be supported and helped back to normal.

“Before the vaccine is fully rolled out, there will remain a public health risk,” Njoku-Goodwin said. “Therefore, one of our main tasks as an industry has been to do everything we can to reduce the risk of transmission in our environments and make event spaces as safe as they can possibly be.

“We are working with the government to develop guidance for how to hold events safely, and engaging with testing pilots to make sure infections are not brought into live music events. We are looking at new ventilation and air purification systems that would dramatically reduce the risk of transmission. And we are proposing an enhancement to Hands, Face, Space, which puts responsibility for making environments safe onto venues rather than individuals.”

This work is not just important for tackling the risks from Covid-19 – it is a blueprint for how the live events sector can operate safely and viably through future epidemics too.

“In our increasingly globalised world, we cannot assume that pandemics are a once-in-a-century phenomenon,” he noted. “We don’t know when the next pandemic will strike, but as an industry we are determined to be ready for it when it does, and be one of the safest environments for social contact. Getting our sector back on its feet is not just about mitigating the public health risk.

"Covid-19 has had devastating economic consequences too, with huge ramifications on cost, confidence and certainty. An indicative date for restart and a government insurance scheme are vital – without them, many major festivals will not have the confidence or the preparation time to go ahead this year.

“Policies like the business rates relief and the VAT rate reduction on tickets have been very welcome this year, and should be extended for their full benefit to be realised. And if we are not allowed to operate viably as a sector, then there will be no option for the Government but to extend the Cultural Recovery Fund and continue the various support schemes like furlough and SEISS.”

While this pandemic is still raging and causing devastation to lives and livelihoods today, the rollout of the vaccine means there is light at the end of the tunnel.

“Ministers speak openly about the prospect of returning to normal by the spring, and the combination of vaccines and rapid testing gives hope that we will be in a position to hold large-scale events by the middle of this year,” he points out.

“Summer might seem a long way off, especially when we are in the midst of a second wave of Covid-19. But we operate for long lead times as a sector and now is when the key decisions about the summer music season are being taken.”

When the time for recovery comes, the music industry can play a key role in the post-pandemic economic and cultural revival. But if the right support and reassurance is not put in place for event organisers, artists and venues now, then there is a serious risk that much of the summer live music season will be cancelled.

Countries like Germany and Austria have taken action to protect their events industries and ensure they are ready to help drive their recoveries – it’s vital that the UK does the same and is not left behind.

“The prospects of holding live events in 2021 are extremely unclear,” Njoku-Goodwin acknowledges. “Social distancing, capacity limits and restrictions under the tiered systems all mean that it is an immense challenge to hold events in an economically viable way. There is no certainty about when restrictions might end and so there is little confidence to plan and organise major events. Covid-19 has created an existential crisis for the live sector and UK music festivals – the 2020 season was wiped out, and there is a real threat that the vast majority of the 2021 season will not happen either.

“The best way to support and protect the live music sector is to get it back on its feet and enable it to start generating income again. The focus must therefore be on how we get live performances happening again at capacity. This means we must first demonstrate that we can effectively manage the health risk by taking necessary measures to reduce the risk of transmission at live music events, and secondly find a way to operate in the current landscape in a way that is financially viable. Until a vaccine is fully rolled out, measures must be taken to manage the public health risk.”

The best way to support and protect the live music sector is to get it back on its feet and enable it to start generating income again. Jamie Njoku-Goodwin

How to get the sector back on its feet

The music industry has therefore been looking at all options to reduce the risk of transmission, and UK Music outlines the following:

“We are working closely with the government to develop guidance and clear protocols to enable live music events to return safely, and will continue this collaboration as a priority.”

1. UK Music is committed to engaging with the Moonshot programme and using rapid testing to eventually bring back full capacity events. This requires proof of concept, conducting testing pilots with social distancing, then gradually building up to full capacity.

2. We are looking at and piloting improved ventilation and other pathogen reduction systems. There are a number of ventilation and air purification systems on the market that reduce the risk of transmission in inside spaces, but unless they are recognised or validated by Government then there is no incentive for industry to invest in them.

3. For indoor events, the industry is also proposing an enhancement to the Hands, Face, Space approach: Test, Clean, Prevent, which switches the management of the risk of COVID-19 from individuals onto venues which already have the expertise.

“As an industry, we are working on multiple options to manage the public health risk,” said Njoku-Goodwin. “However, there is no clear mechanism for validating these various approaches with the Government. We therefore recommend establishing a taskforce that can advise, evaluate and validate the various innovations we are looking at implementing. This has been very effective for the sports sector, with the Sports Technology and Innovation Group. We recommend the Government does the same for the live performing arts sector.

“We are confident that through partnership with the Government and the private sector we can effectively manage the public health risks at festivals and live music events and make them safe places to be. However, there will remain significant challenges for the industry as it seeks to get itself up onto its own feet.”

To support the live sector, UK Music has a set of key asks of Government:

• An indicative date for full capacity restart.
• A Government-backed reinsurance scheme.
• Targeted financial support. • Extension to the VAT rate
reduction on tickets.
• Rollover of the paid 2020 Local Authority license fees
• Extension to business rates relief.

Read the full report here.

Meanwhile, MPs have written to the chancellor, asking him to launch a Covid-19 insurance scheme to protect live music - news which comes days after a parliamentary inquiry heard that the majority of UK festivals face ruin if they are forced to cancel events for a second summer.

The appeal is backed by more than 100 industry figures, including organisers of the TRNSMT and Parklife festivals.

"Without insurance, the events we know and love simply won't take place this year," the DCMS committee said. "Sustaining losses like those we've seen in 2020 for another year isn't an option, and hundreds of businesses. have already been forced to fold. The government has backed insurance for the film and television industry to the tune of £500 million. It's now time to do this for other creative industries."

The live music industry has been hit particularly hard by Covid-19, and more than 90% of the gigs planned for 2020 were cancelled.

"There's a huge risk for organisers that they'll spend an awful lot of money and then see their events being cancelled for reasons completely outside of their control," said Glastonbury's Emily Eavis. "And when those events go down, a huge number of jobs and livelihoods will disappear again too."

She called for a government-backed scheme that would compensate festivals who were forced to cancel - similar to a £2.3bn fund recently announced in Germany.

Paul Reed, chief executive at the Association of Independent Festivals recently spoke to MPs, where he outlined to a potential scenario this year whereby festivals cancel "early and en masse" owing to a lack of insurance, yet public health "drastically improves" over the spring, meaning fans would either be left without events to attend, or be forced abroad.

The evidence prompted DCMS Committee chair Julian Knight MP to write to the chancellor, urging the creation of a government scheme as a matter of urgency.
"The government is telling us that life should be getting back to normal by the summer but unless it can provide a safety net, it will be a summer without festivals," he said.

"The industry says that without government-backed insurance, many festivals and live music events just won't happen because organisers can't risk getting their fingers burnt for a second year.

"The Government already offers a level of cover to the film and television industries, now is the time to extend support to other creative industries or risk losing some of our best loved and world-renowned festivals."