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General Secretary Writes - March 2021 part 2

Hello and I hope you are all safe and well and looking forward to whatever we can salvage out of the 2021 season.  I know that some have already cancelled, others have moved dates into the latter part of the season and for some ticket sales are very good.  There’s quite a variety out there.  I wish you all good luck in whichever you choose to do, and I will give you as much information as I can as it comes in to help with your decisions.

Since my last General Secretary Writes (GSW) published on 2 March, I chaired a meeting with members of the Events Industry Forum (EIF) and our PR consultant Andrew Bingham looking at ways in which various associations can approach the government on COVID issues in relation to festivals and events.

8 March was International Women’s Day, and an AFO members women’s meeting was held online, chaired by Sarah Bird from Wild Rumpus.  Full notes available elsewhere on AFO website.

10 March I was invited to take part in a meeting to look at heritage craft and its links to tradition, the event was hosted by Heritage Craft and I will monitor how things develop and see how it can fit in to festivals in the future.

11 March was our weekly LIVE meeting - obviously much discussion about COVID start dates for future festivals.  More information on this elsewhere.  Same day the Public Health England PHE/DCMS festivals working group meeting took place again.  More detail of that later.

PRS Licensing
A very comprehensive letter from our friend at Music Venues Trust Mark Davyd, had some very detailed points.  The mere fact that government themselves are not pursuing people for license fees, business rates, returns of loan funds in any kind of aggressive manner.  However, PRS are being aggressive in their pursuant of license fees and have written sharp letters to a variety of small music venues.  Linked to this is the debate/dispute over the license for streamed concerts and events.  AFO are part of the campaign that suggests that the license fee for streamed concerts should be the same as a live concert.  However, PRS have pitched in with the figure of more than 10% of gross takings.  A great deal of discussion will follow, but at the moment PRS are reluctant to discuss anything on the issue as they seem not to have got their own house in order, as yet.

The Budget
For a complete rundown of all the details of everything that happened in the budget, especially with reference to festivals, go to

However, just in short, after much campaigning by LIVE and many others, there were some successes.  The 5% level of VAT on ticket sales will last a further six months and then change to 12½% for a further 6 months.

AFO will continue with others to campaign for that 12 ½% rate to last to the end of the 2022 festival season at least.

£300 million has been added to the Cultural Recovery Fund for applications in later distribution handled again by the Arts Council of England.  It has been noted in several press articles that at least 1/3 of the money provided by government so far in the cultural recovery fund has yet to be distributed and one does wonder why that money is being held back when so many festivals, arts organisations and support companies are struggling.

In addition, the Furlough Scheme and the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme have also been put in place to the end of September.  This in itself flags up are a concern that if government think that they need to handle furlough to the end of September, are they really expecting life to get back to normal in midsummer.

An extension of business rates relief for those who pay business rates has also been put in place as has an extension to the loan scheme.  Though one wonders just how many loans and repayments our industry is already drowning in.  Can we really afford to borrow.

Further to the note above at 11 March, LIVE Meeting Melvin Benn (Festival Republic) reported that PHE on a local level were becoming a stumbling block towards getting the pilot schemes now known as research underway.  These should be commencing in early April and the full report of the events delivered in the middle of May.  However, with local authorities and local public health England, not keen at the moment to see these events taking place on their patch it is very difficult to see how this this timetable will be met.  Melvin then went on to say that DCMS will be putting out research/pilot events in many different styles.  Tom Rodden, chief scientific officer to DCMS will lead and it is somewhat of a mystery to the events industry that experienced people like Melvin are not being invited to be involved more closely.  We shall have to wait for the results. (see Post Script)

Martyn’s Law
Results of the Manchester Arena bombing enquiry have delivered new laws giving new powers to the police with regard to crowds at large events.  These new laws are put in place to try and ensure that that sort of incident does not happen again.  However, it does put some serious and burden on venue and event managers.  A small working group from LIVE is being selected to investigate more closely its effect on the live music scene.

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Business in a COVID climate recently met to investigate how business in the outdoor events industry is being affected.  Andy Lenthal from PSA and Jim Winship from EIF attended and notes from this meeting will be available shortly.

DCMS are trying to help
Paul Reed from AIF reported that DCMS were quite clearly trying to put together a package that would help our industry but were obviously meeting with some difficulties.  He reported that they were particularly interested in trying to help us solve the government underwritten insurance problem, but ministers were not on the same page at the moment.  It appears that they may well be trying to time us out to the end of the 2021 season.

Sales good in parts
Tickets for those festivals that have gone on sale are moving quite well, however the cash is being held by the ticket agencies (and quite rightly too).  Of course, this presents festivals with a cash flow problem when it comes to paying deposits on equipment and artists for their festivals.
Those who were successful with the CRF fund could well have enough to survive.  However, others may find it very difficult.  Hence the need for insurance.

Decision Date
31 March was the previously announced date by which time most festivals will have to make the decision as to whether they were or were not going to happen in 2021.  However, in recent discussions, it was generally felt that the decision should not be timed and should be left to the business and festival managers to decide for themselves.  It seems unfortunate that government are prepared to allow us to have to make these decisions ourself and answer to our customers, who of course will be somewhat disappointed if we have to once again close down.  Finally, on these LIVE meetings, they are chaired by ILMC director Greg Parmley.  Greg does a fine job and on this occasion, there were 64 people on the video call and the meeting ran exactly at time.

As reported earlier, later the same day I represented AFO at the public health England, DCMS festivals working group meeting.  There were 32 people on this meeting and unfortunately Tom Rodden, chief scientific officer for DCMS was unable to attend.  However, AFO and EIF are preparing questions for a further meeting with Tom Rodden in the near future and minutes of the previous two meetings will be found elsewhere on the AFO website when DCMS approve this.

DCMS were represented by Tom Dammers who reported that 21 June as announced in the roadmap is not a start date.  It was to be regarded as not before date.  If there should be a need for change to that not before date, it will be announced no later than 15 June.  This of course is way too late for a lot of mid-season festivals, but it is what it is for AFO.  I asked several questions of the DCMS representatives and who also included are doctors with vaccine specialisms a transcript of the questions and answers will be available elsewhere when DCMS approve them.

Others Get Started
During this meeting there were several comments about the timetable, which included trying to understand why there was to be a football tournament possibly in England on 11 June with audience.  In addition, of course, schools are now back working in large groups and the government have announced cops COP 26 international meeting in Glasgow and well before 21 June.  It was expressed that it was hard to understand how the festival and events industry couldn’t get started here, but these other events did seem to be on the planning board.

Passport or Vacination Certificate
Further discussions about vaccine passports took up some time and government are stepping away from the word passport and replacing it with vaccine certificate.  Discussions are still going on as to whether this will be possible to put in place.  Festival industry clearly cannot sensibly work with at the gate testing, so passport/certificate system of some kind needs to be available.
More on this when we have the news.

Streaming or Live
With some very basic unqualified research, it appears that audiences are desperate to get back to live performance.  However, streaming is far from dead, and it’s likely that in 2021 we will be seeing a combination of both.  See elsewhere for PRS licensing of streamed events and the combination discussions.

A different way to meet
A symptom of the COVID pandemic clearly means we have not been able to meet face to face. However, there has been a multitude of conferences and meetings online on various platforms.  These have all brought more people together to discuss more issues, usually COVID-19 related.
This has given rise to a future of online meetings on a more regular basis with more interested parties than could normally attend live meetings in various towns and cities.

Do you have a job to advertise?  AFO has recently had enquiries from one or two members asking if festivals do actually advertise jobs.  If you have a vacancy for either a paid or voluntary job within your festival team then do send it through to AFO and if we have enough will start a new page “employment stop”.

Print or Video
Tell me if you prefer News and General Secretary Writes printed, on video or both.  If we go for the video version, I’ll be looking for volunteers to read the news to camera for publication.  Do let us know which you prefer.  And if you would like to volunteer.

So to COVID-19
Finally, our not so friendly COVID-19.  Over the last week or so there has been a great deal of activity in the world of COVID with the days getting longer, the sun shining, plans for mid and late summer festivals well underway.  As previously reported festivals in early-season have cancelled or transferred to 2022, or in some cases just moved to September of this year.  The following notes are in no particular order and randomly collected from a variety of meetings I’ve been attending on behalf of AFO vis-à-vis the COVID crisis.

First up is Vaccines
Government reported that by the end of summer adults will all have had two vaccinations, and many other groups will be well underway.  We’ve also heard reports that some of the Oxford scientists are working on the delivery of the appropriate vaccine by tablet form.  This is quite normal in the vaccination industry and where especially poor Third World countries are unable to afford, or indeed handle injection vaccinations and pills are quite often used.  It is likely to be between 18 months and 2 years before any of this is readily available on the assumption that we will be living with COVID for many, many years.  It is likely that we may have to be taking precautions against this on a regular basis.

As previously stated, it is unlikely that mass testing can take place at the festival gate, so some form of passport/certificate will have to be used for us to show within our risk assessments that we have taken necessary action.  At the moment, government are still discussing a vaccination certificate and it could be some time before we have a result.

However, I have recently read information about an app for iPhones and Androids that can identify with voice patterns your likelihood of being positive or negative to the COVID virus.  At the moment we have no further details and will report as soon as we have.  Should this be true, it will be a game changer.

For more on vaccines, passports, and certificates it would be worth reading www.COVIDsafefestivals, a spin-off from TicketSellers who are helping the Festival industry look for solutions to these problems.

The security industry represented by UK CMA are reporting serious shortages in the number of people available to take on security work for a summer festival and events season.  It appears that SIA trained staff have found better paid work in such places as NHS, Universities, and other establishments.  They are now not too keen to return to a busy, possibly wet field.

UK CMA have written to leading sport and arts bodies to set up discussions and will report later in the summer so if you need security for your event, book it asap.

AFO Funds
Meanwhile, after a second refusal by ACE to fund AFO’s work we will have to review membership fees.  Our Advisory Group are looking at the options to try and find many and various ways of keeping you informed.  We hope the help and advice, info and support that AFO gives you both directly and indirectly is good value and worth every penny (note - despite several reminders some of you are still paying the same rate you did in 2015 so please check and change yours if necessary – continuous membership = Individuals £40, Organisations £90 and Associates £165).  More details of our plan will come later in the summer.

Couldn’t make it to Conference?
If you were there you will have now received an email with a link to review the whole day on demand via VIMEO.  If you couldn’t make it, you too can get this for a small fee – keep an eye on your emails.

Post Script
You may have seen in the weekend press that some sports events are being launched later in the spring with some none socially distanced audiences.

Don’t panic this is just a test / research / pilot, call it what you may but it will not immediately open the doors to full crowd events and festivals.  DCMS and PHE will gather reports and will be some time in concluding how it all went.  It could of course go horribly wrong but let’s hope and just maybe by the end of summer 2021 we will have an all-clear to properly reopen.

Music events are not at the moment being planned, so, although we are on the same page, we have not yet been told which festivals will be pilots.

That’s all for now
I have a few weeks of meetings to attend, never a day goes by without one, inc. Sundays.  I will then write up reports and get them to you as AFO News on the website and/or in the next GSW.

For now, STAY SAFE, plan and if you can deliver your festival do it safely for your customers, your staff and crew.

Good luck and do stay in touch - I seem to be here most of the time.

Steve Heap
General Secretary, AFO

Association of Festival Organisers (AFO): 18th Mar 2021 17:42:00

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