By Mark Laurie
Sajid Javid, the New Chancellor of the Exchequer declared on Monday that we would be opening on July 19th and there would be no turning back.
However, the news did not go far enough to prevent a slew of festival cancellations over the following days.
The situation had come to a head the previous week when legal action was taken against the government over their failure to publish the results of the Events Research Programme. Twenty hours later, the government published the results but without the advice that would allow events to plan with confidence – another broken promise to the sector. Womad Festival said on Monday that they would need the advice to open – a point raised a week earlier by the also now cancelled, Kendall Calling. By Monday evening, Womad had also been forced to cancel.
On Tuesday night 40,000 plus football supporters cheered on England to a famous victory over Germany in the European Championships, yet the government would not advise 40,000 capacity Womad what safe should, or would, look like! What are we to draw from this? Getting drunk and dancing with 40,000 people in a street is apparently safe – doing exactly the same thing in a field is not.
When music promoters have to put their hands in their pockets to sue the government to deliver on what it promised – and still not got what they needed – the signs cannot be good. It seems that the government has decided that events aren’t safe, regardless. The outdoor events industry is being allowed to bleed out by government, whether intentionally or not – that is the result of government inaction on this issue.
The double whammy of no advice and no insurance puts all of the risk on the event organisers, businesses and freelancers that enable the events to take place. If advice comes out a few days before your event, festival organisers may have to pivot their offering massively or even cancel. What if they allow events but no camping (again campsites have never been so busy in the UK – but if you add music they’re presumably a public danger). The organiser would have to cancel – without cancellation insurance. They’d lose all that they invested. It would be a repeat of the debacle caused by public health officials who cancelled Boat2020 (formerly the Southampton boat show) at a few hours notice costing millions to the event and its contractors.
Even smaller, lower density events are now cancelling as they cannot take the risk. The problem is being made far worse as local authorities don’t know what they should be advising at events. A number of local authorities have told organisers that they must provide seating and table service if they provide food – which is not the case currently. They are suggesting that as alcohol is available that both food and drink must be served at a table by waiting staff. When restaurants and bars can’t find enough staff – how are we expected to provide full table service at every outdoor event. One event was cancelled as the local authority told the organiser they would need to put a sink and toilet next to every tent. When local authorities are gold plating like a Brew Dog promotion and each one is different, with the risk of public health shutting you down or new rules appearing out of the mist, you’d have to be a ballsy promoter to put your money on the line this year.
According to the Chancellor, social restrictions will be lifted across the country, but don’t be surprised if once again that doesn’t apply to events, the night-time economy or hospitality. Some events will take place and it is hoped things will begin to calm down, however, at the time of writing, events are cancelling by the day.
You can understand why government would be reluctant to sanction major events in the middle of a pandemic. What is harder to understand is why the government have strung the industry along for two years, repeatedly telling them to open while making it impossible to do so.
It’s one thing asking events to shut to protect public health, but it’s another to single out events as one of the few industries to get little or no government support. The government has failed the outdoor events and live sector during Covid. We are now urging them to develop a financial package specifically for events.
NCASS members worried that they will not be able to earn at outdoor events and shows this year should contact their local authority and ask for permission to trade locally and let your account manager know if you’ve been refused. If they won’t let you work normally or support your business when closed, the least they can do is allow you to try and earn a living.