Chair of the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media And Sport Committee, Julian Knight MP, has written to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden criticising the British government’s continued refusal to provide a state-backed insurance scheme for cultural events taking place this summer.
However, assuming such an insurance scheme isn’t going to happen, Knight also proposes extending the government’s current Events Research Programme – which is testing how to safely stage higher capacity shows without contributing to any new COVID surges – to include a larger number of pilot events, as those taking part are protected in case of cancellation.
In his letter, Knight says that the DCMS Committee first recommended implementing a state-backed insurance programme in July 2020, as the commercial market stopped offering cancellation insurance for events scheduled to take place during the pandemic. The continued refusal by ministers to do so “undermines the investment being made in piloting the safe return of events, and the government’s roadmap towards lifting restrictions [in June]”, he adds.
Many large-scale events that could go ahead this summer if the current schedule for lifting COVID restrictions in England in June is met may have to cancel anyway, because without insurance they can’t risk carrying on spending money on production when COVID rules may as yet extend. A number of music festivals have already cancelled their July and August 2021 editions for this reason.
“[The refusal to provide insurance] has resulted in sold out festivals in receipt of the Culture Recovery Fund cancelling for a further year, and urgent warnings that events including the Great North Run will be forced to follow suit”, Knight writes. “If, as seems increasingly likely, more events this summer simply fall off the calendar because they lack insurance, the government’s inaction will be solely to blame”.
Although saying that the committee’s preference remains that ministers introduce a sector-wide insurance scheme, Knight offers the possibility of extending the Events Research Programme as a consolation.
A number of events, including the BRIT Awards, will take part in the ERP in the coming months. All participants in that programme have been provided with government-backed insurance. Hence Knight’s proposal to include more shows in the ERP, including events scheduled to take place after 21 Jun, ie when COVID restrictions in England may end.
“The government have acknowledged that pilots held under the Events Research Programme require backing in case they are forced to cancel”, writes Knight. “We therefore propose extending the Events Research Programme and the liability available to the pilot events under it to a wider, yet defined, selection of events scheduled for after 21 Jun. This would enable the country to enjoy a greater number of culturally significant events this summer, support the economic recovery of the events industry and its supply chains, and build on the investment already being made into the pilots”.
Among the festivals that have blamed the lack of state-backed insurance for them having to cancel their 2021 editions was the Boomtown Fair. Its organisers 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”.
As the weeks draw on, it seems likely that more events will be forced to postpone for another year, potentially putting them out of business altogether. In many cases that will mean that support handed out by the UK government’s Culture Recovery Fund will have been wasted. Meanwhile, the “summer of fun” ministers have previously promised is looking less likely to happen. Under the DCMS Committee’s plan, there would at least be a number of culturally significant events on stronger footing.
“Given the urgency of this issue”, Knight concludes, “we look forward to receiving your thoughts on these proposals by 10 May”.
As well as Dowden, the letter has also been sent to Prime Minister ‘Boris’ Johnson, Chancellor Of The Exchequer Rishi Sunak, and Economic Secretary To The Treasury John Glen. It remains to be seen if any can be shaken from their current stance on state-backed insurance.
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