A trickle of festival cancellations is poised to “become a flood”, with more than nine in 10 independent events privately indicating they may not go ahead, senior industry figures have said, after Boomtown festival became the third in a week to cancel.
Boomtown’s announcement on Tuesday morning came days after the arts festival Shambala and the indie rock festival Barn on the Farm announced last week that they would not go ahead. All three cited the financial risk of staging events that could be shut down at a moment’s notice by a reimposition of Covid restrictions.
A statement posted on the Boomtown website on Tuesday said: “Sadly Covid-specific cancellation insurance for events simply does not exist at this point in time. This means 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.”
The past week’s cancellations followed those of the Bluedot festival this month and the Download and Belladrum Tartan Heart music festivals in March. Glastonbury, the UK’s biggest summer music festival, announced in January the cancellation of its 2021 event.
Despite promises by government ministers of a “great British summer” of music, event organisers have for weeks been saying many events might not go ahead if the government did not step in to back insurance against the risk of a reimposition of Covid restrictions.
Paul Reed, the chief executive of the Association of Independent Festivals, said a recent poll of his group’s membership had found that 92.5% said they could not go ahead without some form of government-backed insurance or indemnity scheme. AIF represents about 80 festivals, comprising 40% of the UK’s festival calendar.
Organisers were pushing decision dates back as far as they could, in case a change in circumstances made it possible to go ahead with confidence, Reed said.
“I think we’re going to see a wave of cancellations from this point forward … I’m having crisis meetings with festivals,” he said. “We know that more cancellations are coming, unfortunately. There are other festivals that have already made that decision and it’s just about the timing of the announcement.”
As Boomtown announced its cancellation on Tuesday, Live, which represents the live music industry, told Boris Johnson there had been a “complete market failure” to provide festivals with the insurance cover they needed. In a letter to the prime minister, Greg Parmley, the Live chief executive, calls for £400m remaining from the government’s culture recovery fund to be allocated to cover event organisers’ costs if they are forced to cancel on public health grounds.
Similar schemes are in place in Germany, Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium and Norway, the letter notes.
Commenting on the letter, Parmley said the trickle of cancellations so far would “become a flood” if a solution to the problem of insuring events was not found. “The prime minister has said he wants this to be a great British summer,” Parmley said. “So do we. But that won’t happen if our world-leading live music events disappear for the second year in a row.”
Dozens of Conservative MPs also joined the call for a government-backed insurance scheme of £250m to be set up, to help organisers who are uncertain whether their live events will be able to go ahead later this year.
About 40 Tory backbenchers from the Covid Recovery Group wrote to Johnson on Tuesday night to say the scheme was necessary, or else “most music festivals and live events will be cancelled this summer with countless job losses and business closures”.
They added that the industry did not need another lump sum from the culture recovery fund, but instead “insurance against the political risk, however minimal, that the government will impose restrictions on the industry and its customers after 21 June”.
A spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: “More than £34m from our unprecedented culture recovery fund has supported festivals including Boomtown, Shambala, Glastonbury and Deer Shed festival. We are aware of the wider concerns about securing indemnity for live events and are exploring what further support we may provide.”