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General Secretary Writes - August 2021 part 2

It’s the British thing to comment on the weather and I must say that I am a bit disappointed that our garden table has not been uncovered very often in the last few weeks.  I am looking forward to what my grandma used to call an Indian Summer and hoping we can have some warmer weather before autumn hits us for real. 

For those of you running festivals, dealing with Covid issues and the ups and downs of government regulation, it is tough enough as it is but with some bad weather on top it really must have felt like you were under attack.  Wickham had some storms alongside a poor delivery of main stage which had to be put to one side, along with all the Covid stuff.
Peter and his team eventually pulled it all together and delivered a Wickham Festival to be remembered, perhaps not for all the good music but for the challenges.

Just So on the Cheshire/Staffordshire border is without doubt THE children’s family festival to go to.  Plenty of wide-open space and with slightly reduced numbers (due to Covid) Wild Rumpus staged their almost usual festival, again hit by bad weather on at least two days.  But what better for having good fun for children than to put on your wellies and paddle around in some mud.  I visited on the better day for weather and witnessed hundreds upon hundreds of very smiley, happy children and families having great adventures.

So, to my office diary

5 August the LIVE Executive meet revealed that we needed to make some statement as the Chancellor began his spending review ready for next budget in the autumn.  So LIVE will continue to put up a fight for the continuation of a 5% VAT on tickets which is due to move to 12.5% soon.  At the very least we want 12.5% to continue for two or three years.
Also due to the ongoing pandemic some elements of furlough need to be considered in the near future.  We discussed CRF3 and once again I raised on behalf of AFO the unfairness of the Arts Council rulings (see later).

Later same day we held our members meeting.  Several issues discussed amongst 15 members and a major part was General Secretary updating members on current government actions.

6 August my regular catch up with Maddie Spear who members will remember is looking after website and social media.

Same day there was also an emergency LIVE meeting to discuss the DCMS announcements of the insurance scheme.  We clearly needed more detail but were given the opportunity to respond.  (On a personal note, if anybody wants a great museum to visit in the north of England, go to Manchester and visit the Museum of Football.  It is low budget, incredibly well set out and a great experience).

9 August AFO Climate Action Group met.  I was not in attendance, report due later.

10 August readers will remember that EIF and AFO have both been lobbying the Local Government Association to pull together and all associations meeting to discuss inconsistencies in licensing throughout the UK.  Unfortunately, this meeting held today was highjacked by DCMS who had invited a variety of officers from local authorities who proceeded to tell us all about their various horror stories and good work.  The aims and objectives of the meeting were far from met and EIF have now taken charge of the situation and will hold a full meeting of key players in October. And will report.

12 August the LIVE regular meeting was postponed for a summer break due to holidays.

16 August UK Crowd Managements Association (UKCMA) held an online meeting to look at the challenges of security and crowd control.  A very well-attended meeting and particularly well-managed by CMA.  This group will be meeting again on two or three occasions each year.  More detail if required.

18 August 12noon DCMS Festivals Working Group where we discussed the results of pilots and considered the rather twisted version of news that was starting to appear in both national TV and papers reference Covid spikes around festivals.  We know this not to be true as most of the reported cases are found before entering the festival site due to Covid testing and reported cases are increasing outside of the festival boundaries, for instance Newquay for Boardmasters and although Directors of Public Health in the locality have been very supportive, it is hard to dissuade press from taking the real story.

On same day the AFO Diversity Equality and Inclusion Steering Group met without General Secretary.  Report to follow.

19 August LIVE full group meeting discussed the potential Covid Passport.  Some members have responded to my request for your opinion on this, however, there is starting to be a feeling that it might be a government ploy to pressure more people into having the vaccinations.  The thought of having to have some kind of passport before being allowed to attend major events was certainly becoming a problem.  The political feeling is that it would be very hard to get through parliament.  However, we don’t know, we have to wait and see.  On behalf of AFO I reported that at least 10 festivals from our members had gone ahead in recent months with reasonable local authority support.  Beautiful Days was in operation as I write and although had some poor weather during the build, reportedly had an excellent event.  Bournemouth 7s is due on Bank Holiday weekend, as is Shrewsbury which I intend to visit. 

More insurance
Once again there is still no sign of any small print on the insurance and reports to LIVE suggest that it is unlikely that the insurance scheme will be ready by 1 September, there is far too much detail yet to be discussed.  In addition, those that decide they can afford a 5% premium must also remember that there is a 12% Insurance Tax on top of that so actually the premium is 5.6% and in real terms very little is covered except if government decide that events cannot happen, AFO will be consulting with our insurance advisors to get opinion on a way forward.

Retain contingency plans
Those of you who still have festivals to operate in 2021 please don’t forget that the government are holding on to the rights to reintroduce restrictions and have handed power to local authorities and Directors of Public Health to introduce their own local variations to rules and must be consulted at a very early stage.  “The government will also maintain the current regulations until 28 September that enable local authorities to respond to serious and imminent public health threats.  Government will also publish an updated Covid-19 Contain Outbreak Management Framework for local areas in due course”, they have yet to do this.

CRF (1, 2 and 3) the Cultural Recovery Fund
This was deemed to be the saviour in financial terms.  However, for many it did nothing of the sort.  AFO had the view that those administering the CRF funds had very little understanding of the festival sector.  For instance, in a recent correspondence they suggested that festival organisers have not made very many applications due to the fact that many of them were probably on holiday.  When of course readers of this paper will be totally aware that summer is not a time that festival organisers take holidays.  We once again objected to the fact that CRF3 is only to be used as a top-up for those who were successful in CRF1 or 2.  From near to home experience I can tell you that getting past the Arts Council’s assessment boards is one mighty big task.  One group of advisors will tell you that the applications need to be changed in a particular way, you change the application, only to be told by a different group that that was unnecessary, and it should be changed in another way.  And on it goes, delay after delay.  Even when you successfully get past the Rights to Apply your application should be taking 6 weeks for turn round, but in fact it has become 10 weeks due to Arts Council staff shortages and of course holidays.  Many festivals are now focussing on Project Grants for 2022.

AFO opinion is that CRF3 is a little bit like the Titanic lifeboats - we are in the lifeboat, you are not, we will survive, you will drown!

Inbound European artists
It is generally reported that inbound European artists are having a much better time of it than UK artists outbound to Europe.  There are good examples of artists coming from Europe and managing to play gigs.  However, Covid isolation is still presenting problems.  From an outbound point of view, it is more financial, i.e., we are not in the European Union anymore so visas and work permits are expensive.  Spain for instance were needing up to £900 per head in a recent challenge.  Several festivals have had to cancel their overseas artists for 2021 mostly because of isolation and lack of touring opportunities.  Hopefully this will be put right and put back to normal for 2022.

Pilot Covid details
Dan Craig of Superstruct, who look after such things as Sheffield’s Tramlines and Newquay’s Boardmasters, have very kindly shared a great deal of detail about the testing and infections detail that occurred around those two festivals.  It clearly shows that the organisations working with Public Health has very positive results and although news suggested that the festivals were responsible for spikes, the report clearly demonstrates that the organisers were rigorous in ensuring safe events and stand up as a fine example.

More Covid news
Readers will have noticed that in AFO News on 20 August I posted some up-to-date information on who needs to isolate.  Rather than repeat it to you may I just point you in that direction.  Always work on real evidence and not hearsay and rumours, and it is that which DCMS need from us.  They are constantly collating information about what is actually happening out there at the coalface.  Please don’t respond to negative news but do bring forward real evidence, be it good or bad, and let me deliver it to DCMS.

22 August visited Just So festival as previously reported.

24 August SH/AFO chaired an EIF Board meeting to discuss restructuring and ways forward for the future.  More of this when the work is completed.

26 August regular LIVE meeting with the full Group.  Jonathan Lomax, PR company employed by LIVE, reemphasised his belief that the Passport (a con trick).  Previously discussed.  Jacob Adams from Attitude is Everything reported on their company’s survey into disabled people’s willingness to attend events, and it proved quite conclusively that although many were still shielding and/or isolating, there were many out there only too willing to attend festivals and live music events.  Organisers should consider their facilities for disabled people in all areas and all abilities including Covid safety.  There are literally tens of thousands of tickets that could be sold that are not, due to festivals’ lack of provision.  Help and advice is always available from Attitude is Everything ([email protected]).

Insurance was once again discussed, more on this when more detail is available.  The LIVE Group also discussed post-show refunds, i.e., people claiming they were unable to attend the festival due to Covid isolation and how that can be handled.  If you, AFO members, have any examples of how you are dealing with this then we need to hear from you.  It is clearly becoming quite a problem.  Johnathan Brown from STAR (the Ticket Agency Association) reminded everyone that the consumer law still applies, local variations are about the personal opinion of the festival organiser, but the customer can always fall back on their consumer rights.  Take care, you do not want to end up in the small claims court.

27 August LIVE Environmental Group met after General Secretary appeared on BBC World News for a short interview at 5:50am reference the effects of Covid on the festival industry.  And I can promise you that I presented a very upbeat feel, especially with a view to the longer-term future.  Festivals will survive Covid, and we will through our resilience and dedication bounce back.  It may take a while, but we will.  And for those of you with festivals still to operate I wish you good luck.

Association of Festival Organisers (AFO): 3rd Sep 2021 14:56:00

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