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Edinburgh Festival reveals 2021 line-up as calls for Government-backed insurance grow

Edinburgh International Festival has announced a plan for more than 170 different shows and productions this summer as pressure increases on the UK authorities to instigate a Government-backed insurance scheme for live events.

The Edinburgh festival, considered one of the world’s leading performing arts seasons, is to be staged at 10 indoor and outdoor locations across Scotland’s capital city from August 7-29, with general booking opening on June 11. Performers include Damon Albarn, Laura Mvula and the London Symphony Orchestra directed by Simon Rattle, while a virtual hub will stream more than 20 shows.

The festival was cancelled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but welcomed more than 450,000 attendees in 2019 and generated a turnover of £12.1m.

Organisers said audience safety is central to the planning of the 2021 event, with measures including capacity restrictions, outdoor venues, social distancing and shorter performances.

Festival director Fergus Linehan said: “The programme we are announcing represents a carefully organised return to live performance. It is a collaborative effort between those who live in our city, our artists, the team at the festival, our donors and stakeholders and all who will be coming along to our performances. 

“While so much has been written and said about the challenges of the past 15 months, it is now time to look to the future and to the brilliant musicians, actors, dancers and poets who are getting ready to perform in Edinburgh this August.”

Last October, Linehan was one of a number of senior figures from the events and festivals sector who signed an open letter to the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden calling for a Government-backed insurance scheme. They wrote: “Without it, it is hard to see how our sector can rebuild and give economic confidence to our participants, our supply chains and our audiences.”

The UK Government said last month that festival insurance schemes will not be explored until after restrictions are lifted in June.

However, the pressure was raised this week by the publication of the DCMS Committee report into the future of UK music festivals, which repeated its call for Government to introduce a time-limited insurance scheme for costs incurred by live events scheduled to take place after June 21 that may have to cancel if there are continuing COVID-19 restrictions.

The committee found that the sector faces another “lost summer” directly as a result of the Government’s refusal so far to back insurance for events at risk of cancellation. The MPs also stated that despite initial positive data, they are not confident that the Events Research Programme will fully deliver evidence needed on multi-day festivals to lift all restrictions on live events from June 21.

DCMS Committee chair Julian Knight said: “Music festivals have been treated as the poor relation by the Government. Despite the huge economic and cultural contribution they make, few have benefited from the Culture Recovery Fund, and without our efforts the sector would have been left out of the pilot events programme on the safe return of audiences.

“It has been made very clear to us that the vast majority of music festivals do not have the financial resilience to cover the costs of another year of late-notice cancellations. If the commercial insurance market won’t step in, Ministers must, and urgently: events need to know now whether the Government will back them, or they simply won’t take place this year.”

The report was welcomed by the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), which revealed recently that more than a quarter of UK festivals over 5,000 capacity have already been cancelled due to an inability to access insurance.

AIF chief executive Paul Reed said: “AIF welcomes the findings of the committee and appreciates its efforts over the past few months. We are pleased that MPs have again echoed our repeated calls for Government-backed insurance for festivals.

“Government has essentially made a commitment to act on this once we reach step 4 of the roadmap. We expect swift intervention at that point with an insurance scheme that protects festivals that may need to cancel after June 21, should the trajectory of the pandemic dictate new lockdown, enforced reduced capacity or social distancing measures.

“As it will take some time for such a scheme to become operational, it is imperative that it is retroactive so that all festivals scheduled to take place after June 21 are protected.”