The Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) has warned that the UK could face an independent festival “wasteland” in 2021 without further targeted government action.
A recent member survey has revealed that the sector could be facing redundancies of 59% on average and will lose over half of its workforce between September 2020 and February 2021 without support.
The AIF’s recommendations include for the government to acknowledge a distinction between retail and seasonal businesses in terms of ongoing business support, and a continuation of all original employment (furloughing and self-employed schemes) and business support packages until the festival industry can get to the planning and sales stage of 2021 events.
The UK’s festival sector could be facing potential refunds of up to £800m in total this summer with at least 90% of all UK festivals unable to take place this calendar year.
AIF said its members have average ‘sunk costs’ of £375,000 that are not recoupable, with 98.5% not covered by insurance for cancellation related to COVID-19.
AIF chief executive Paul Reed said: “While the Government has been receptive to AIF’s counsel, it has not taken meaningful action to protect our sector. Single event festival companies are seasonal businesses. They need urgent support now and ongoing support after lockdown ends and restrictions are eased.
“This is not a temporary shutdown of business – it is an entire year of income and trade wiped out. If support is not offered throughout the autumn, then the sector will face widespread job losses that will seriously inhibit its ability to deliver events in 2021.
“There is no safety net for independent festivals, many of which have fallen between the cracks of current Government support measures such as loans and grants. For example, zero per cent of AIF members have been able to successfully access the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans Scheme.”
Based on impact surveys, 92% of AIF festival organisers have said that their firms are at risk without government intervention, with AIF warning the effect of COVID-19 is likely to result in businesses collapsing under refund requests.
The AIF is also calling for the government to issue clear guidance and timelines regarding when large organised gatherings will be able to operate alongside high-level guidance on social distancing measures that would be expected in order to maintain public safety.
It is also asking that the government advises large, single-event premises license fees rolling over to 2021 and offers VAT breaks on ticket sales for a minimum of 18 months so that festivals can see a result of this support.
The organisation highlights that if large, organised gatherings are going to be last in line as part of a phased re-opening of business, “ongoing support must also be phased accordingly.”
Reed added: “Next year’s festival season will hopefully offer much needed relief after a very difficult time for the country. But, for now, these independent businesses need to survive. Otherwise, every year from now could be a fallow year for independent festivals, for the emerging artists they provide a platform for, and the local economies across the UK that they generate income for.”
Elsewhere, the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on music has hit a record high of 106 members.
The umbrella body for UK music industry is now reportedly one of the largest and best supported groups in Westminster and boasts members from all the major political parties.
The body, which has quadrupled in size from 27 MPs and peers in 2017, connects politicians with the music business and informs them about the issues facing the industry.
UK Music provides the secretariat for the All Party Parliamentary Group for Music.
UK Music’s chief executive Tom Kiehl said: “It’s fantastic that the All-Party Music Group has attracted such a cross-section of support from across the Houses of Commons and Lords.
“The group is a unique forum for the music industry to highlight its concerns to politicians and ask for their support on current issues such as the impact of coronavirus. I’m confident that this group will continue to play an important role in contributing to the debate about issues involving the music industry.”
Image: Exit Festival