Leaders from the night time industry have reacted to the UK’s most recent planned COVID-19 measures, while Nuffield Southampton Theatres has been forced into administration…

NTIA

The Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) has expressed its concern over the “uncertainty” that the UK government’s new planned COVID-19 measures has caused.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed in a televised address on Sunday that a phased reopening of shops will not take place until June 1 at the earliest, while the reopening of public places, such as venues, would not take place until July 1 at the earliest.

NTIA chief executive Michael Kill has expressed concerns that the night time industry, including bars, nightclubs, restaurant owners, pubs, festival and live music event operators, has been left with “uncertainty and concern over the details and the exact timeline” of when its members’ businesses will be able to open again.

Kill said: “We recognise the challenges around balancing the measures to safeguard public health against securing the protection of the economy, but the NTE & events sector will collapse under any proposed restrictions on business capacity, enforced physical distancing, increased resource costs, additional high level PPE, bringing into question not only the viability of businesses but whether this is something that can be managed within these spaces.

“The Government must engage with the Sector, at the right levels to understand and effect sector-specific recommendations, with a clear timeline and comprehensive re-engagement strategy, supported by an extended financial support provision, through sector specific furlough and grants. Without this we will see 50% of these businesses fail and over two million jobs lost.”

Ben Newby, operations director at MJR TEG, said that assistance such as extending the furlough period for the hospitality industry, a VAT freeze and licence fee suspension would allow all venues to have the time to plan and manage without having to come up with solutions of how to sustain a business that cannot trade at reduced capacity with no support.

He added: “Either venues cannot open or they can open at reduced capacity. Neither of these options are sustainable or possible as both will result in job losses, closures and the end of the fourth biggest industry in the country in financial terms. The industry needs to be given a unique consideration as it will be the most impacted by its very nature. Instead of a gradual, staggered capacity return the industry needs to be supported by the government to allow them to remain closed without going out of business.”

The Association of Festival Organisers (AFO)

The UK’s Association of Festival Organisers (AFO), whose members include Future Ticketing, has estimated COVID-19 cancellations and postponements have caused £111.6m worth of damage to its members.

The average size of an AFO festival is 3,000-5,000 visitors, comprising an estimated 348,800 festival visits. From research conducted by EIF and others it is known that people spend around £320 per head at each festival.

With an average of approximately 3,200 ticket holders visiting each festival in this AFO list the spend reaches a total of at least £111,616,000 of gross takings lost to the industry, the UK and local economies.

Steve Heap, general secretary of AFO, said: “The virus has certainly taken its toll in 2020, with 87% of our member festivals cancelling and moving over to their 2021 dates.

“Of course, there will be casualties both in festival terms and the enormous band of contractors and suppliers to this very busy seasonal industry. Government financial support in the main has not recognised the impact of a lost festival season on the communities in which they are held, nor the damage done to the charities which so many festivals support. This, quite apart from the livelihoods of mainly self-employed festival organisers and back up teams.

“For now, please support what is left of the current season and plan now by booking tickets for 2021. As a festival goer (you must be!) your support will be much appreciated as AFO festivals recover.”

Nuffield Southampton Theatres

Nuffield Southampton Theatres (NST) has been placed into administration after a severe drop in ticket sales from its closure due to COVID-19.

NST, which has run for more than 50 years and includes venues at the University of Southampton’s Highfield campus and at a new £32m hub in Guildhall Square in the city centre, cancelled all performances on April 3 until May 31.

Greg Palfrey of Smith and Williamson, who has been made joint administrator of the venues, said today: “This is a sad day not only for Southampton, of which NST has been a venerable part of the city’s cultural fabric for more than half a century, but for the country’s theatreland in general.

“Our thoughts are with NST’s 80 staff, the vast majority of whom are furloughed and are understandably anxious about their jobs and NST’s future. We will do our best to sell the business and its assets, albeit in testing commercial conditions which have no parallel in modern British history.”

The theatre is a major cultural entity and plays a role in Southampton’s bid to become UK city of culture in 2025. In 2015, NST was named “regional theatre of the year” by the Stage newspaper.

The playwright James Graham was among those to react to the news on Twitter: “So sad and senseless. A theatre loved locally, well attended, but ticket refunds due to the necessary shutdown means it has no cash and no sign of a cash injection from government. There’ll be many more soon without theatres receiving extra public support as seen in other sectors.”

Palfrey concluded: “NST is a well-respected theatre company, with a range of assets, that could survive and thrive. A buyer would need to be patient because no-one yet knows when theatres will reopen or how social distancing measures would impact upon seating and stage and therefore revenues.”

Image: Martin Fisch