More than 75% of the UK’s remaining festivals could cancel this month without government action


May 5, 2021

The Association Of Independent Festivals has warned that a quarter of UK festivals have now cancelled their 2021 editions due to government inaction on insurance, with more expected to follow.

Of all the UK festivals with a capacity of more than 5000 that were scheduled to take place this year, 26% have now cancelled, says the organisation. The AIF estimates that this leaves 131 festivals left standing, but warns that as many as 76% of these could be called off this month without urgent action.

With no cancellation insurance available on the commercial market, festivals headed into the 2021 season without a safety net. Although the UK government’s current schedule for lifting COVID restrictions in England means that festivals in July and beyond should be able to go ahead, there is nevertheless a chance that those restrictions will extend. Without insurance, many festivals can’t afford the risk that such an extension would force a last minute cancellation, at the point when most of the their production costs have already been incurred.

For months, both the industry and Parliament’s culture select committee have called for the government to offer state-backed insurance for events that were planning to go ahead this year. This would mean that planning could continue, while ensuring that, if the schedule for lifting COVID restrictions continues as expected, a summer of festivals would be ready and waiting to go ahead.

However, despite ministers saying they wanted a “summer of fun” once COVID restrictions lifted, they have so far refused to provide any protection to event organisers, despite lower cost and lower risk alternatives to full on state-backed insurance also being proposed.

AIF also reveals that the number of events scheduled for September and October has now doubled since earlier this year, showing that – while some festivals have cancelled – others have pushed back, hoping that even if COVID restrictions extend, they’ll be lifted by then. Although, of course, there is still a level of uncertainty even for those festivals.

Many of the events that have announced their cancellation in recent weeks have directly blamed the lack of government support for the decision.

When it announced its cancellation last month, Boomtown Fair said: “Anyone putting on an event this year will be doing so without the safety net of insurance to cover them should COVID prevent them from going ahead in any capacity. For an independent event as large and complex as Boomtown, this is a huge gamble of up to an eight figure sum and the financial risk is simply too high”.

AIF says that there is now an urgent need for the government to reverse its decision on a state-backed insurance scheme. It adds that the majority of festivals with dates in July and August have payment deadlines for substantial and unrecoupable costs by the end of this month. As many as 72% say that if they do not go ahead this year, they will not be able to return in 2022 without some kind of financial support.

“For months now, we have been warning government that the UK’s 2021 festival season would be quickly eroded if they failed to back their own roadmap out of lockdown and act on COVID related cancellation insurance”, says AIF CEO Paul Reed. “That danger is now coming to pass, with over a quarter of festivals having cancelled already this year. It’s now red alert for the UK’s festival season. By the end of this month, 76% of the remaining festivals planned for 2021 could very quickly disappear from the calendar”.

“It is hugely positive that there was a festival pilot as part of the Events Research Programme last weekend, and this could be an important milestone in the safe return of festivals”, he continues. “But, without a safety net, independent promoters cannot begin to confidently invest in their events. They currently have no protection should a COVID-related issue result in the cancellation of their festival. If government-backed insurance is off the table, festival organisers deserve to know what government proposes as an alternative to prevent the widespread collapse of the festival season”.

The live industry has previously proposed some sort of contingency fund for festivals, if insurance is off the table. Meanwhile, the culture select committee recently said that, while an industry-wide state-backed insurance remains its preferred position, surplus funds from the Culture Recovery Fund could be used to support festivals. It also proposed that more events be included in the government’s Events Research Programme, which is testing the safety of full scale events. The handful of events currently included in that programme are covered by government insurance.

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