General Secretary Writes - April 2021
Hello members and friends. I hope you are all safe and well.
Since my last GSW toward the end of March there has, as always in this Covid world been a great deal of activity. I’ll try to group things in some kind of order here and then towards the end, check my diary.
First - Covid stuff
This at the last DCMS/live festivals working group meeting this group of 37 delegates were addressed by Tom Rodden, chief scientific officer to DCMS.
On behalf of AFO I asked a very direct question, ”What represents outdoor festivals in the research pilot scheme being conducted throughout April”. The answer at the time was - not a lot but pressure from us and others over the following days did make a difference and we can now report that Melvin Benn (Festival Republic) has been asked to present a 5500-capacity audience in an outdoor setting of Sefton Park, Liverpool for a one-off short concert. Melvin has worked extremely hard to convince DCMS that this sort of test is needed, and it will be conducted under DCMS scientific rules taking place on Sunday, 2 May, with results hopefully published between mid and end of May. This in turn will help give us some guidance as to what can be possible after the June 21 roadmap date.
Tom Rodden confirmed that camping events had still not been planned.
Research Pilots ERP’s
On that same agenda. We were introduced to Nick Hytner, who is chairing ERP steering board. He was new to the position so had little clarity on what was required. However, he moved very quickly and assisted in putting in place the pilot event as above.
DCMS have now provided feedback to the festivals supplementary guidance briefing note prepared It is a little disappointing that DCMS decided at this meeting that their connection to this work was not yet possible and they went on to make several recommended amendments.
AIF subgroup chaired by Paul Reed are looking at these amendments and hope to be able to publish a short version onto the Purple Guide website in the next few days.
However, we do need DCMS endorsement in some way, and this has yet to be agreed. Local authorities will pay much more attention to this guidance if it is properly endorsed.
The Events Industry Forum (EIF) held two meetings in February with Tom Rodden, chief scientific adviser to DCMS. The notes from which are now published on the AFO website under Covid-19. Those of you who are preparing to organise and run covid safe events would find this an interesting read.
In mid-March, several event publications talked to festival bosses throughout the country about how Covid will impact on their line-ups. There is clearly still much speculation surrounding what a summer of live music might actually look like. Until such things as the research pilot events are reported in mid-to-late May to is unlikely that Local authorities will be very keen to allow anything much to be staged.
It has been reported that several local authorities are refusing permission for the research pilot events to take place on their patch. Liverpool, however, have given a clear go-ahead and will be staging several events. Unfortunately, the Comedy club event has been pulled due to mis information leading to social media hate mail.
The club organisers wanted to help get a test event on but were not willing to lose customers to the bad press.
Festival Republic’s Reading and Leeds are planned to go ahead over August bank holiday weekend, but at time of writing, although ticket sales were very high (sold out). Festival Republic have said, without insurance, they will not be able to proceed, and we understand they are still negotiating.
Green Field Research Pilots
AFO member Wychwood, at Cheltenham racecourse, had volunteered their event as a pilot, but at time of writing, had had no confirmation. Amongst delegates at the LIVE Festival working group meetings there is great concern, but once the ERP is complete SAGE may well come up with new regulations that make it impossible for us to open even in late season. It seems ironic that 2000 people can pack into one of the country’s biggest pubs (the garden) and yet a festival of 2000 can’t happen.
Quite understandably, DCMS are working with scenarios not sectors, i.e., they are experimenting with cabaret, outdoor stadium, theatre seated, and none seated. There may well be some gaps in their plans, but some testing must happen before anyone can give the go-ahead for back to normal.
I keep an eye on the Parliament daily agenda and on 23 March, a debate in Westminster Hall brought Jamie Stone, MP, LibDem to the fore with the question,” will the government consider underwriting and insurance scheme for the events industry”. In support of his question to the Minister, Caroline Dinenage, he reminded the meeting that £13 million is raised every working hour in the events industry, amounting to £70 billion a year.” Why would Treasury not support getting such an industry back on its feet.” He also suggested that if Treasury believed in their own roadmap, they would never have to make a payment on such insurance.
Other speakers included Steve Brine MP, who reminded the panel that there are 975 music festivals alone in the UK, delivering approximately £1.75 billion into the national economy and securing 85,000 jobs. It is estimated that 5 million people attend music festivals, (2019).”
Festivals cannot properly get back to normal and open without insurance. It’s already very late, possibly too late.” He said “commercial insurance is not available in the marketplace. Government must step in”.
Kevin Brennan, MP, Labour Cardiff asked why her Majesty’s Treasury were not at this meeting to answer the call. The sector is being led on a string selling tickets is not helpful as the money stays with the agency not the event. Kevin also referred to the select committee on the future of music festivals and hinted that the investigations of possible fraudulent actions within the CRF funding, the Minister offered no answer.
Jamie Stone, MP, said” the longer the delay, the worse it will get by allowing festivals to get back to work. If people could get back to work, Taxes would be collected.
Kevin Brennan went on to say, “insurance schemes underwritten by government are in place in Denmark, Holland, Finland, Estonia, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Norway, why not the UK?”
Caroline Dinenage, the Minister reported that she was in full discussions with Treasury, but so far, they had refused to step up.
Sarah Olney, MP, LibDem said” nothing can replace personal experience of a live festival, but planning takes at least six months and without insurance. the planning cycle is seriously disrupted.” She reminded the panel that we are losing skills in the pipeline, but we are hoping to get the festival season back up and running and this could become a serious problem if we continue to lose not only the people, but their historic skills.
At the end of the meeting, Jamie Stone, in summary, thanked all the contributors and asked the Minister would she share any documentation that came her way on this subject. She agreed she would.
The question was “Will this house, i.e. the government consider government backed insurance for the festival and events industry?” and of course they were considering it, however, not yet delivering.
Members will remember that the government launched a call for evidence on Covid status certification review. On behalf of the LIVE music industry, including AFO and festivals the live group made comprehensive and detailed response, giving an overview of the current scene.
The questions were regarding capacity and the considerations needed. Since then, there has been much debate in both television and the press on whether a passport, now known as Covid status certification was the right thing to do. There is very little appetite in Parliament for such a thing. But recently the Prime Minister has announced that it is very likely to be part of the research pilot program, but not necessarily enforced on the wider industry. When we get restart decisions which will not be taken until after the pilot schemes are reported there could well be further variations to the guidance.
The debate has already had an effect on the research plan with the comedy club on Merseyside pulling out after a deluge of criticism on social media. Also, at time of writing no one at DCMS was prepared to confirm the reported green field site concert as a pilot.
This good news is that some local authorities are very keen for festivals and events to take place. In particular Warwickshire and Coventry have published their approach to festivals and events in 2021. A very interesting read from a forward-thinking local authority. Our colleague Dick Dixon at Warwick Folk Festival has more information.
A Covid test APP!!??
I previously reported that an American company called Vocalis Health had obtained a CE mark from the EU to approve their vocal check for medical use as a screening tool for Covid 19. Full details of how the voice-activated testing scheme works on your iPhone are available on their website HERE
Covid Secure Festivals c/o TicketSellers
This is another online document well worth the read. Our friends at TicketSellers are doing their very best to support the relaunch of the festival scene as soon as it’s safe to do so. See Covid Secure Festivals HERE
The above is just in case you’re one of the brave souls who are going to have a crack at running a Covid safe festival. You might like to know that government tell us that each person in a Covid safe audience requires 4 m² in order to be properly separated from others i.e. 250 people need 1000 m², 1250 people need 5000 m².
Within the Scottish government the events strategy, policy and engagement team have published a trade guarantee for Scotland’s events industry to help the organisers and supply chain businesses. In their document they state a recent new government survey showed that around half of the UK population would look forward to attending a live event this summer, with 75% believing live events are critical to the culture of the nation.
Events of any large-scale take months to plan and require significant pre-event investment. Should events be forcibly cancelled due to the government’s roadmap changes and lockdowns, all costs would currently be borne by the organiser and their event supply chain. The debt would render businesses unrecoverable.
On behalf of Scotland’s event team EPIC, they are driving home to the Scottish government, the absolute need for insurance underwriting.
StandOut (the Mag)
Our friends at Standout magazine recently published an interesting article by Simon Garrett talking about operational challenges in 2021. This I’ve said on many occasions.” Event organisers are resilient and creative and will not just lie down.” Simon talks about engaging with national and local government and the necessity for open discussions at very early stages of event management. He goes on to discuss the impact of Martyn’s law after the bombings at Manchester Arena and concludes his piece with” the war against the pandemic is in the main, out of our hands”. We are constantly awaiting the results and the guidance, and he has no doubt that it will be eventually won, it’s just a question of when a combination of a wary public and a jittery government will mean that even when mass herd immunity through vaccination has been achieved, the risk will need to be managed for the rest of the year and many years to come.
I think it’s very unlikely the festival and events scene in the UK will ever be the same again.
Also in Standout is a recent article by Matt Storey where he talks about recent reports, he has been reading that start to show a pattern set over a hundred years ago after the devastation of World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic. There was, after all that a rejuvenation of life, work and leisure. Matt goes on to say,” just like the scorched earth after a forest fire so many creative shoots will spring up in every industry, generating opportunities for all of us. If we can just make it through to the finish line. The pent-up demand will be ready to explode and without doubt the coming weeks and months will be grim, but in the long term we must look for glimmers of hope to survive.”
HM GOV. Roadmap
In case you haven’t caught up, in the spring the UK government produced a four-part roadmap. We are rapidly approaching Step 2. What we’re looking forward to is Step 3, i.e. 17 May when some indoor entertainment could be allowed, a 30 person limit on outdoor gatherings, organised indoor sport some accommodation and domestic overnight stays could be introduced.
We could then get really excited as we approach 21 June Step 4 when the government hopes to be able to introduce no legal limits on social contact, reopening of such things as nightclubs and larger events and no legal limits on life affirming celebrations. However, in a recent interview, the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock would not confirm masks and social distancing would be eradicated. It is only a government hope. See the full roadmap document available on gov.uk website.
Trial Runs in Europe
Barcelona’s leading festival and concert promoters collaborated to stage a 5000-capacity concert at the end of March, and it was declared a success. However, the UK will not be staging anything quite so big until May. At the Barcelona event ticket buyers were required to have been tested negative for Covid 19 when they purchase their ticket. Buyers had to download a smart phone app. which was loaded with test results. It generated a QR code and enable the user to gain access to the show. The UK government are still discussing such a passport.
If successful, a similar event in the UK would open the doors for many of us.
For instance, Latitude Festival in Suffolk has declared it will run at full capacity. The four-day festival in Suffolk is scheduled for July. Once again Festival Republic are leading the way.
BBC website recently published a list of what they called” festivals, which are still going ahead”.
Very little research has gone into this list and a simple rock and pop list was delivered, most of whom have already said that without insurance backup they will not be going ahead.
Surveys are Vital…and will help us back to normal
In a recent survey conducted by Festicket, 90% of UK festivalgoers felt confident about attending a live event this year. The 140,000 festival goers from around the UK that were asked showed that customer confidence was actually very high. The survey found that 79% of respondents would feel comfortable attending a live event this summer between June and August, with the number rising to 90% with events in the final months of the year. Interestingly, on the subject of vaccinations just 7.9% said they would only feel comfortable attending an event if they have been vaccinated. 58.5% deemed it absolutely essential that hygiene and cleaning measures were increased on all festival sites and the cashless payment system would help. Festicket were happy to share the information and did so through Standout magazine saying” it’s important that in the industry, government guidance was available, and we should all be listening to the fans whose opinion would be essential in delivering events in 2021”.
After more than a year of saying Covid it’s been quite rare to refer much to BREXIT, but it has to be said for a touring musician Brexit is a disaster. Vans, visas, drivers, border crossings, carnet documents, cabotage are all serious problems for the bands trying to tour in Europe. The LIVE group has been lobbying government to try and renegotiate with the EU. Many European agencies are very supportive and from the festival’s point of view, bringing bands from Europe into the UK is also affected. For those of you who this touches contact AFO office for more guidance.
Politicians throughout the pandemic
We have for the last 12 months been dealing directly with government officers and politicians almost entirely on the government side, of course. Courting powerful people is always a delicate and sometimes tricky operation, but they do have a duty to respond and reply which they seem to do. However, having convinced Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for culture, media and sport that festivals and events are key and important. We now hear on the grapevine that he could well be promoted in the next cabinet shuffle. Keep an eye on the press to see what comes of this. We may well have to start all over again.
There is no doubt that the profile of AFO has improved with publicity and marketing. One of the ways to take that further is to run a major national campaign. We have involved ourselves with lots of issues in the past, not least of which sustainability, VAT reduction, improvements to PRS licensing deal, Local authority licensing of events, etc. We are now asking you to let us know what the next campaign should be about. If you have an idea of something that needs our attention and a good campaign, then do get in touch with AFO office.
Festival UK 2022
I have mentioned this in these pages before and have expressed my personal point of view. However, it must be said that there are many festivals and arts organisations benefiting from engagement with what to some has been called the Festival of Brexit. A £120.million project has been announced as a celebration of the British weather and the largest grow your own food project of modern times. It will be amongst the events being staged for a nationwide Festival of creativity in bringing the UK together in 2022. Organisers of the festival first commissioned by Theresa May’s government and now supported by Boris Johnson, have announced that 10 teams have successfully pitched ideas. “A festival of Brexit? That’s the last thing it will be” its chief officer Martin Green said. “It is about bringing people together and celebrating creativity through events, it will be open, original and optimistic.” At the moment there are a cross-section of organisations involved in staging the events that is now funded by the UK government. More on this as it happens.
Throughout the pandemic AFO has gained 35 new festivals into membership. You are all very welcome and we will soon be launching our benefits scheme that will give a prize/gift to any member festival who signs up a new, fully paid-up festival as a new member. More on this next time.
Recently, membership was surveyed to discover capacities and results of CRF funding. Approximately 39% of membership replied, and from that we calculated that 1,138,115 people attended AFO events in 2019.
The total amount of money from CRF 1 was £470,000 across 18% of the membership. At the time of the survey, 13 members were waiting for results of CRF1. We can now reveal that 14 AFO members were granted a total of £1,623,318 in CRF 2 and various friends and connections to AFO were also successful, collecting a total of about 3 ½ million pounds from CRF. See the Arts Council website under cultural recovery fund for more detail of those who had success.
Hopes & Dreams
We also asked members what they were hoping government could deliver in 2021. Results included sticking to the roadmap dates, an extension of VAT reduction to cover health and safety extra funds needed and the hope that some kind of passport or certification might become available. Members also asked for clarification and ideally a reduction in the powers awarded to Directors of public health, stop of social distancing and finally, members overwhelmingly want government to back an insurance scheme.
We also asked members to tell us whether they preferred an online Conference, as in February or a face-to-face, as has been norm. Overwhelmingly membership preferred the real face-to-face Conference, which will now be held in a Midlands venue on 5 & 6 November. More details to follow.
Discretionary Grants at Local Level
Our friends at NCASS remind us that discretionary grants are available at several local authorities if an organisation has paid business rates. This effectively meant that small business could previously not receive support as they have no rateable valued premises. However, this is changed, events and freelancers are specifically mentioned in the new rules. It should be a lot harder now for a local authority to justify not accepting applications. It is well known that local authorities have underspent their grants by a total of £800 million and have been told that if they don’t spend it in the right areas, they will not get further funding from government sources, so we are joining other associations and asking everyone who wants to apply to do it now and then keep AFO office informed as to whether they are successful or rejected.
One of the first festivals to cancel its 2021 edition have now launched a two-day concert at Worthy farm, which will be streamed across the world. Glastonbury have also just received £900,000 in CRF funding.
Nick Smith from Graham Sykes insurance company have been in touch to remind us that there are choices in insurance for festivals and events. AFO now offers Graham Sykes and EVS for insurance cover.
General Secretary Diary
Finally, a few notes from my AFO diary:
- Tysers insurance group who are working closely with live and government to try and achieve a successful result to government funded insurance are pressing on with the battle.
- 23 March was the Westminster Hall debate previously reported. In addition, I chaired a meeting of EIF board members looking at the strategy for the future. I also attended an online debate at UK Music.
- 25 March - regular biweekly meeting with the Live group.
- 26 March - I spent some time mentoring my Derby University events management student and attended a LIVE group meeting where we were introduced to leaders from the research pilot schemes now being launched.
- 29 March - DCMS festivals working group met, and in particular discussed the pilot program.
- 30 March - I was interviewed on BBC Radio Hereford & Worcester and in the afternoon on the same day joined meetings with AIF and PSA. AFO Advisory Working Group met to discuss admin and communications.
- 31 March - I attended Vision 2025 Key Advisors meeting.
- 1 April - successfully presented several April Fool tricks to family and friends. Live group executive meeting was that morning which was not a joke at all.
- 8 April - attended DCMS live festivals working group and in the evening the AFO members meeting with our guest Greg Parmley, the CEO of LIVE.
- 9 April - will be more mentoring for my university student and that brings us up-to-date. I shall be writing to you again in a couple of weeks.
Good Luck with all your 2021 plans and stay safe, we are not yet out of the woods.
General Secretary, AFO
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