Live music and theatre organisations have launched legal action against the UK government to force it to publicly release the Events Research Programme (ERP) data amid ongoing opposition in the industry to the continuation of restrictions.
Live music industry body LIVE and a range of theatre businesses, including Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group, Cameron Mackintosh, Michael Harrison and Sonia Friedman are involved in proceedings to press the government to hand over the report of Phase 1 of the ERP.
In the legal action, lodged today, the parties assert that the Government has “flagrantly breached the duty of candour,” which requires it to be transparent when faced with a legal challenge and that “none of the reasons given for withholding the Events Research Programme material they seek withstand scrutiny”.
The filing requests that the Court consider the application at an urgent hearing as soon as possible. As well as forming the basis for a reopening decision for July 19, the ERP findings also provide a path to ensuring that live entertainment does “not need to be the first to close should there be a Covid resurgence over the winter. Covid certification, plus simple mitigation measures in venues, mean that events can be run safely.”
The ERP is being used to provide COVID-19 scientific data and research into how small and large-scale events could be permitted in line with the UK roadmap to recovery.
However, as this month saw another extension to restrictions on events and other facets of public life, the music industry and theatre businesses have called on the Government to outline the scientific basis for its decision to maintain these limits. Earlier this month, it was announced that COVID-19 restrictions in England would remain for another four weeks after the planned 21 June unlocking.
Despite portions of the ERP economic impact assessment being leaked to the media this week, the Government reportedly refused calls from many MPs in a debate on June 22 to release the report in full.
Lord Lloyd Webber said: “Last week I rejected the Government’s invitation for Cinderella to be singled out as a last-minute part of the Events Research Programme. Today, with a range of voices from across the theatre and live entertainment industries, we are forced to take it further.
“We simply must now see the data that is being used to strangle our industry so unfairly. The Government’s actions are forcing theatre and music companies off a cliff as the summer wears on, whilst cherry-picking high-profile sporting events to go ahead. The situation is beyond urgent.”
Since the pilot programme kicked off in April with the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible in Sheffield, many other events have taken place with reported low transmission numbers identified.
The parties state that while the pilot events have mostly been dubbed successful, the Government “chose to keep the live entertainment industry under severe restrictions from 21 June, while allowing parts of the economy that have not been subject to similar scientific studies, including hospitality, public transport and retail, to operate.”
The Government has now begun to announce a third round of pilots, with the complainants alleging that the events are “little more than a way of allowing certain high-profile events to go ahead, primarily large-scale sporting events, while keeping the rest of the sector shut.”
The filing also states that, as well as declining to publish the ERP results, the Government is yet to provide any form of insurance scheme for the sector or to make it clear what kind of ongoing mitigations may be required in the future – “effectively making it impossible to plan for any live entertainment business.”
Stuart Galbraith, music promoter and co-founder of LIVE, the representative body for the live music industry, said: “The live music industry has been very willing to work with the Government for the last year to show that our industry can operate safely. But it is intolerable that after running pilot shows for the Government’s Events Research Programme, at our own cost, we have been blocked from seeing the results, leaving the whole sector in limbo with the real chance that the entire summer could collapse for the second year running.
“Even now, the live music sector has no idea what the rest of the summer brings, and we are left with a complete inability to plan ahead due to the Government’s continued unwillingness to provide some form of insurance to enable events to move forward.”
The theatre and live music sectors are calling for an insurance scheme, which it has been “pleading with the Government” for more than nine months, as well as updated guidance on restrictions or requirements for stage 4 live events.
It also mentions the fact that many productions are forced to cancel after a single positive COVID-19 test, even when everyone else in a cast tests negative. They are calling for live entertainment to move to a ‘daily testing’ regime.
Yesterday, a report from MPs on the Public Accounts Committee, revealed that UK festivals may not survive if a government-backed insurance scheme against the risk of cancellation is not made available soon.
Peter Gabriel, WOMAD Festival, said: “Without immediate government intervention, the festival industry is on the brink of collapse. That doesn’t mean cash, it means providing the certainty to enable us to deliver festivals, guidance on safety, and an understanding of how their timing affects us in the real world.
“At the end of this week, WOMAD will be faced with one very difficult and heart-wrenching decision. Millions of pounds of investment and the livelihood of around five thousand people are at stake. Several pilot events have been successfully run over recent months. But, like other festival teams, we need to be told what that research means for WOMAD. We struggle to understand why these trials took place if the Government can’t now tell us the results and how that will affect all of us.”