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General Secretary Writes - May 2021


Hello Members and Friends,

I hope you are all safe and well and as my title this month suggests, it really is time we found a way out of this tunnel.  The light is definitely on, quite possibly getting brighter, and I can tell you that a lot of different organisations are working towards the same goal as us.

DCMS Select Committee
One of those is Julian Knight, Chair of the DCMS Select Committee.  At the end of April, he wrote to the Secretary of State, Oliver Dowden, and once again complained bitterly that the government had failed our industry by refusing to come up with an insurance underwriting.  The news on that is that at last government are beginning to hear the message and the rumour is that they are discussing a possible way out.

ARP (Events Research Programme ) or Pilots
His appeal to the Secretary of State went on to talk about an extension of the Pilot Schemes and suggested that another 20-30 events should be designated as Pilots and that we should cover sport, literature, and a range of performing arts in different sizes, capacities, and venues.  Some of the above could well have been heard loud and clear.  We have already heard that the research programme (Pilots) will have a second round quite soon.

Ticket in a Draw
Part of the Pilot Scheme was that ticket holders should be tested negative on the way in and within 5 days of the event take a further test to confirm that they were still negative.
In order to encourage people to take that second test a range of free tickets to festivals were offered in a draw.  Several AFO members stepped up to the mark and offered a range of tickets.  Thank you to all of these festivals that included Bournemouth 7s, Brecon Jazz Festival, Classic Ibiza, Fairport’s Cropredy Convention, FolkEast, GlasDenbury, Let’s Walk Bristol, Medicine Festival, Solfest, The Sustaina Ball Festival and Towersey Festival.

I attended the Pilot Concert at Sefton Park, Liverpool on 2 May.  Designed for around 5000 people in the end about 6100 were there and congratulations to Festival Republic’s Melvyn Benn and John Probyn who put the whole thing together with a wider range of friends and colleagues.  It was a very well organised event and from testing at the Liverpool Tennis Centre right through to the concert itself was smoothly and efficiently run.  There will be a full report quite soon which gives us, hopefully, some positive noises that we can move on to run large scale events again soon.  Of course, this was all run under the guidance of DCMS and the government provided insurance.  As mentioned above it is hope that some kind of underwriting scheme for all could be in place later in the summer.  Melvyn Benn said, “What we are learning here at Sefton Park, we want to tell everybody because this is for the whole industry”.

AFO Membership of LIVE
Readers will be familiar with LIVE (Live Music Industry Venues and Entertainment).
The group employ a lobbying PR company called Blakeney and throughout the month of April Blakeney worked on Covid status certification and reported that after a devastating year of closure the live music industry now urgently needs to be able to reopen its doors so that it can start bringing in revenue and safeguard the hundreds of thousands of jobs that we support.  The work of Blakeney in carrying the LIVE Group message to parliamentarians is invaluable.

They also worked on keeping an eye on ERPs (Events Research Programmes) and the Pilot Schemes and on behalf of artists, agents and managers investigated further the effects of BREXIT on European touring and European acts visiting the UK.

The Roadmap
As readers will know the government Roadmap is moving along relatively smoothly and as we approach step three no earlier than 17 May, indoor attractions will start to open along with indoor sport, accommodation, and some international travel.  It is expected that indoor events of 1000 or 50% of capacity, will be able to open and outdoor events could take 4000 or 50% of capacity.  With outdoor seated events like football stadiums etc. 10,000 or 25% capacity.  The logic and detail of that is a bit of a mystery but some justification can be found in the Covid pages of government website GOV.UK where you will also find all the details of the Roadmap as we head towards the key date 21 June.

Covid Status Certificates
Previously known as passports now CSC.  Whether this will actually happen is debateable. Government is looking into the possibilities but decided that they would look at the research programme results before making any further decisions.  An open letter from the music and live industry has been sent to government suggesting that a CSC may help get our business back up and running.  We await response and further details.

Are You On Or Off Survey?
Finally, on the Covid issues, if you haven’t already reported your plans for 2021to AFO office I would be very grateful if you did that right now.  We are asked by DCMS to supply a list of festivals that are cancelling, postponing until later in the year, running with a smaller Covid-safe event, streaming or a combination of the above, and how you are planning yours would be of great interest.  I would appreciate it if you could just drop us a quick line and tell us your plan.

Local Authorities
Reopening the door to outdoor (hospitality and entertainment) safely, the Rt. Hon. Robert Jenrick, MP, Secretary of State for housing communities and local government recently wrote to the Chief Executives and leaders of local authorities throughout England and asked them to be more open to restarting outdoor events.  After much lobbying from a variety of organisations including AFO he heard the call that across the country local authorities are making their own rules and just like the weather, it can change as it crosses county boundaries.

In parts of Yorkshire, one rule, in Cornwall a completely different one. In the East Midlands, Nottinghamshire districts operate one system, Derbyshire districts another.  Difficult for us to work with and very confusing.  More on this in a moment.  However, Robert Jenrick went on to say, “Among the restrictions eased on 12 April was the reopening of outdoor hospitality including pubs, cafes and restaurants”.  To support these businesses to reopen safely the government legislated to enable them to set up outdoor shelters and marquees without planning permission.  The guidance was all published on website. Shelters, marquees and other structures erected by hospitality and other businesses (that means you) can have a roof but need to have at least half of the area of the walls open at all times whilst in use.  That definitely gave a green light to events to operate in marquees, circus big tops etc. as well as outdoors of course.

He went on to say “Cutting red tape as much as possible is a lifeline for business as they try to bounce back from this uniquely challenging year.  We need your support (the local authorities) to ensure the measures are known, made use of, and not impeded unnecessarily.  Jobs and enterprises depend on it.  I would urge you (the local authorities) to show pragmaticism and proportionality at all times and do everything you can to help business prosper again”.

It’s a good quote you could use in your discussions with local authorities should you meet any stumbling blocks when applying for your licence.

LGA meet EIF
Whilst talking of local authorities as above, a major step took place at the beginning of May when the Events Industry Forum met with Local Government Association (LGA).  This is the organisation that brings together officers from local authorities throughout the UK.
The plan is to eventually bring LGA, LAEOG (Local Authority Events Organising Group), Licensing Officers Association, Directors of Public Health and others together around one screen to discuss the sometimes quite damaging differences across country and district boundaries.  Our aim eventually is to have certainly a more level playing field.  There will always be variations for local areas, but more national recognition of rules and regs, laws and guidance would be very helpful.  More on this as it gradually happens.

Talking of authorities, the NPOCC which is the National Police Co-ordination Centre working on behalf of the National Police Chiefs Council have at last formalised their representation to provide funds and staff for a National Events Intelligence Unit.  This is a significant change for liaison between police and events throughout the UK.  The events industry welcomes the formation of this group who now provide a direct link between policing and events. Someone to talk to, someone to share experiences with and although their major concerns are drug use, violence and crowd control, they are also open to meetings and discussion on how best police can liaise with events both large and small.  An email address for this new unit is [email protected] or you can feed your information and/or questions through AFO office any time.

Let’s talk money
From previous items in News, members will be aware that there are business restart grants for those of you who are paying business rates.  These can be achieved through local authorities and cover such things as markets, antique fairs, book shops, charity shops, bingo halls, festivals and events, campsites and caravan parks, and many more.  Grants are available from local authorities to help organisations get back on track as Covid fades away. For more detail on all of this contact [email protected]

More money.  Cultural Recovery Fund (CRF).  Many of you applied in Round 1, some were successful, many applied in Round 2, more were successful and somewhere on the horizon is CRF Round 3 to help organisations stay afloat between July and December 2021, details of which have yet to be published.

What happened with CRF.  The DCMS Select Committee held a formal meeting of evidence about how the CRF fund was applied and distributed.  Representatives from Arts Council England gave evidence.  Unfortunately, the Committee were not open to evidence from elsewhere.  However, in the meantime AFO has lodged a question with the Committee that suggests it would be helpful to investigate in detail the applications and distribution of CRF funds so that lessons can be learned for any future plans in this area.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) also heard witnesses from a variety of senior officers in DCMS and the Arts Council about the use of CRF funds.  I read the report and declared it a smooth-talking fudge and should really be challenged, so I did, and received a polite reply. For instance, in evidence it was quoted “As part of CRF Round 2 applicants were asked to estimate how many freelancers would benefit from the funding and the estimated figure was 100,000”.  I queried this and asked, “How was this figure arrived at as most freelancers known to our organisations fell through the cracks and gained nothing”.  The committee also heard evidence about insurance and once again sidestepped and declared it was a Treasury matter rather than DCMS. Dr Darren Henley (ACE) responding to one of the MP’s questions referring to regionality and confirmed that there was “an argument around the process, but this would be looked at and rectified in any future process if an error had been found”.

Well, we can tell him that there were many errors in regionality.  The pot was clearly divided up amongst various regions of the country according to ACE boundaries and when the pot in that region was empty applicants were rejected, irrelevant of the strength and purpose of their application.  We hope that our complaint in this area will be heard and rectified for future.  The proof of this regionality was described in the Arts Council’s own publication which comprehensively listed all the organisations that had received funds and the amounts that they had received.  These ranged from:
128 awards in the East Midlands
153 in the East of England
639 in London
83 in the North East
1 in Wales
173 in Yorkshire and Humberside

All in CRF1 and the total distribution came to £430,260,856.  In CRF1 also known as ‘Capital Kickstart’ there was a further £58,881,334 distributed.

In CRF2 there were 2,272 awards making a total of £261,582,823.  By region CRF2 had:
150 awards in the East Midlands
666 in London
1 in Scotland
4 in Wales (there’s an increase)
165 in Yorkshire and Humberside.

These were published on the 2 April and are available in detail on the Arts Council’s website

How green is your festival?
AFO has been on a campaign to help the planet survive so that we have at least got somewhere to present our music, dance, song, theatre, arts, crafts in our festivals. Sometimes its called Green Issues, sometimes Sustainability.  We have many friends and organisations to work with and one new one in that area is called LIVE Green, the Environmental Sustainability Group for LIVE.  This is chaired by our friend John Langford (AEG) and recently on Earth Day brought speakers and presented to the LIVE Music group. Mark Stevenson, a very good speaker but just a little bit bullish and hard hitting for most of those attending.  He did say the creative industries is a little bit behind the curve on climate change and we really should work harder with our work in this area.

The UK has a zero-carbon emissions target of 2050.  Vision2025 suggests that festivals should halve their emissions by 2025.  The new LIVE Green group are aiming at the whole music industry achieving this by 2030, there is a lot of work to do.  There is no doubt that the festival industry is working hard alongside Vision2025, Powerful Thinking, Julie’s Bicycle, and now LIVE Green to achieve these targets but we can’t just keep writing about it, we really do have to take some action and that means you too.

Bill Gates (Microsoft) recently said, “We overestimate what we can do in two years, but we underestimate what we can do in ten years”.  Think about it, there isn’t much time left.  Other speakers included Vikki Chapman from Festival Republic, Nigel Adams, Peter Quick and Mac, all of whom will be invited to a new sustainability panel at the next AFO Conference 5 & 6 November.

LIVE Green is intending to run some workshops for Association members as soon as reasonably possible and asked also if we would consider investing our pensions in alternatives to fossil fuel.  Such organisations as Pension Action, Scottish Widows, Aviva, and Royal London have got options to do this.  John Langford closed this part of the meeting with a call to arms.  We really must do something if we are to leave the planet in any kind of shape for our grandchildren to continue our festival work.

Oh no, not PRS again!
Members will be aware that PRS for music in the middle of the Covid crisis suddenly realised that people were scraping a living, having lost all of their live performance work, by streaming their music and as usual PRS jumped on this as an opportunity to make more money for its members.  They pitched in by saying that public streaming events should pay a licence of anything between 7% and 20% of the gross take.  Obviously AFO joined others in challenging this and a great fight was put up by Annabella Coldrick from Music Managers Forum along with many other associations.  The end result, which again is still being challenged, is that PRS have decided without any further consultation that the rate should be 10% of takings after VAT to be paid as a licence for the streaming of music concerts.  If your gross takings are less than £1500 then we believe the licence would be zero.

More fighting of this battle has commenced but beware PRS could well settle on a figure and apply it retrospectively across 2019 and 2020 and into the current year so if you have streamed or are planning to stream you need to put aside some funds just in case they come knocking at your door.

As previously stated AFO is not against the principle of performing rights being paid.  What we are against is the systems and procedures that this organisation put in place and the draconian way in which they operate.  We will join Music Managers Forum in the battle and report back later.

Financial Advice
As previously mentioned on AFO website, all AFO members are entitled to ½ hour of free financial advice from APS Accountancy based in Aylesbury, Bucks.  Our contact there is Hannah Ludgate, [email protected]  Members can contact APS and ask advice on such things as bookkeeping, VAT, taxes of various kinds and gain some basic advice before the charging clock starts ticking.  Make use of this ‘free to members’ service.

Mental Health
Many members will remember the days when mental health was never even spoken about. Well, it is now, and the months of Covid issues have brought it to the fore.  10 May commences the start of Mental Health Awareness Week but that doesn’t mean that you only need to be concerned for one week.  Bear this in mind for the longer term.  Many of our colleagues have suffered greatly at the hands of Covid 19, physically, financially and sometimes quietly in the background, mentally.  Be aware, show concern and support where you can.  There are organisations out there who can advise, start with and

One of the cleverest scams we have seen recently came from something called the Covid-safe Task Force at 90 Meeson Road, London E15 4AP.  The paper was headed ‘Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’ and basically in very clever government speak told us that all offices needed to spend £123.80 on a clean air device to be installed according to law in offices.  Grants might be available, all you had to do is fill in your details on the enclosed form.

This is A SCAM.  If one of these has come your way bin it immediately, do not fill it in, do not return it.  It is one of the best we have ever seen, but thanks to Covid these leeches have created a whole new range of scams to steal your money and make your life a misery.  If you hear of any or see any more do let us know here in the office, we will spread the word.

My Diary
And finally, I think my last diary took us up to about 9 April so I can tell you that I conducted an AFO webinar for Derby University Event Management Students on 14 April and met with the new chair of LAEOG (Local Authority Event Organising Group), Helen Thackeray which led to the previously mentioned LGA meeting.  This is a real big step towards closer liaison between AFO members and local authorities.

15 April the LIVE Executive group met and formally adopted Articles of Association.
This group is now thirteen associations strong and is well recognised in government circles and as a driving force for the music industry.

16 April LIVE Green, also know as the Environmental Group met, previously reported.

19 April the Business Venues Events Partnership (BVEP) met, and we discussed a variety of Covid issues and looked closely at fighting our way out.  BVEP is very much leaning towards the business end of events, but totally recognises live music and festivals in general.  It is a very powerful lobbying group to be part of.

20 April onscreen meeting with Anita Denham, Arts Council Regional Representative to discuss AFO application for funding.

22 April was Earth Day and included the whole 60-member LIVE Group meeting (see above re speakers).  DCMS Festival Working Group also met.

23 April (Shakespeare’s Birthday/St Georges Day) the Events Industry Forum Board meeting was chaired by SH and noted that we have been invited to join the Business Events Recovery Group (BERG) to represent the outdoor events industry.  This is a very useful body to work with.

During April we remembered two good friends from the festival and music business in Paul Saunders (wynndebagge) and Fylde Folk Festival founder Alan Bell.

26 April I attended a festival’s Facebook Covid webinar and held a meeting with David Agnew, Bury Met to discuss further AFO funding.

29 April LIVE Group Executive met and we held our regular AFO members meeting that evening.

30 April met with Bob Rushton ex of Derby Live, now known as Bob on Arts to discuss the possibility of a Derby venue for AFO Conference in November.  More on this when settled.

2 May as previously mentioned attended LIVE Pilot concert in Liverpool.  The Blossoms were very good.

5 May my first attendance at a BERG meeting Business Events Recovery Group. And later same day a meeting with John Langford to look at some detail of the LIVE Green Group.

6 May the regular LIVE full meeting which spent most of the meeting reviewing the Liverpool Pilot Scheme. This was immediately followed by a DCMS Festivals Working Group which did the same (bit of an overlap here).

7 May met with Local Government Association (LGA) representative, more on this as it develops.

And in the next few days I will be attending a government Test & Trace Workshop, the launch of The Hub, LIVE Executive meeting, LIVE Green and DCMS science advisor Tom Rodden leading up to our next AFO members meeting onscreen 11am Friday 14 May (all are welcome to attend, drop an email to [email protected]

A key date to note of course, is Monday 17 May when hopefully the Prime Minister will announce the next step on the Roadmap.

I hope all the planning for whatever it is you are managing to achieve in 2021 is going well and look forward to catching up again soon.

May 2021

Association of Festival Organisers (AFO): 11th May 2021 09:34:00

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