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General Secretary Writes - October 2021

I wrote to you last on 24 September and was planning to write again after two or three weeks but there is so much going on that the file is getting a bit bulky so here it is:

Mobile Ordering Apps

Technology is charging along at a rapid pace and apps that can be adapted to the festival and events industry are now commonplace.  For example, NOQ is built with events and venues in mind allowing organisers to create custom menus and manage orders.  The app also provides real-time reporting so that food vendors can see which items are selling the most at peak times.

ONVI formally known as WI5 is a full ordering platform that helps facilitate purchases and integrates seamlessly with your existing staff members.  ONVI has extensive ordering models, including table, pickup, delivery, order to room, curb side and more.  This is flexible and easily adapted to the festival and events industry.

Would you believe there is one called BUTLR?  BUTLR is aimed directly at eliminating queues at bars and music venues.  Easy to use interface makes it best for staff to learn and integrate into existing systems.  BUTLR has both app and app-less solutions so you can choose to either have your customers download the BUTLR app or scan a QR code.

Others recommended are YOELLO and FLIPDISH both of which are easily adapted.

The above information comes courtesy of Fiona at Growth Division, first published in Events Industry News.

Working safely guidance

In mid-September the Prime Minister and Health Secretary set out the government’s approach to the Covid-19 response in England through autumn and winter 2021/22.  To support businesses during this period the government have continued to provide Working Safely Guidance on how employers can reduce risks in their workplace.

Government asked for response to their publications and AFO responded on behalf on members as, once again, the deadline was cut short and had to be complete by 24 September.


Sue Torres of Wicked Events (AFO member) kindly attended a zoom meeting with Creative Lives and others talking about volunteers. 

She reports that the discussion was about the lack of volunteers in general due to the pandemic, but specifically about roles within areas such as village halls and small events and that they were very hard to fill.  The problem raised was that there were not enough people willing to take on the admin roles which meant that existing people were taking on more and more, so when anyone did step forward it was a huge amount to undertake and so created the shortage (some AFO members will recognise this issue).  The meeting talked about breaking admin roles up into smaller sections to make them more appealing.

Sue explained to the group how Wicked Events operate and also reported a good stream of volunteers that came forward for the end of season 2021 festivals, and already lining up for 2022.  The main problem discussed seemed to be key roles rather than general stewarding.

Wicked Events organise festival stewarding on behalf of up to 12 festivals in a normal year and handle wristband exchange, car parking, campsite stewarding, litter picks and general guidance stewards.  [email protected]

LIVE Meetings

At a LIVE meeting at the end of September vaccine passport consultation was discussed and some examples of what has now passed as legislation in Scotland were delivered.  On the ground the general experience in Scotland is that lots of people are ignoring the new regulations and carrying on. 

The meeting also discussed what might be a complication in the wording of the Value Added Tax rules as we move from the 5% lower level to the new 12.5% mid-term.  At time of writing LIVE were asking the Treasury for complete explanation of the wording which of course we will report here as soon as we have it.


Will there ever be a day when we don’t discuss insurance?  Pandemic insurance is effectively now available, though the paperwork and the detail are still being sorted.  If you are interested talk to your broker who then in turn needs to talk to one of the government’s listed underwriters.  I reported to the LIVE meeting that 2022 festivals are now placing deposits on equipment and so they are looking to take out cancellation insurance with their usual brokers.  If festivals go ahead and do this will they fall foul of the Covid insurance rules whereas ordinary cancellation insurance must be bought from the same place as the Covid insurance (which is still not available).  The meeting discussed and generally felt that festivals should go ahead and book their normal cancellation in the usual place in the first instance and wait until Covid insurance becomes available in detail.

Festival of Europe

At a recent AFO members online meeting we heard from Wilfried Rimensberger who was representing Festival of Europe Ltd.  He introduced the idea of a Europe festival to take place in 2022 which effectively could encompass several festivals and events in celebration of the fact that we may well have left the European Union but we are still regarded as part of Europe.

He included a formal invitation to the launch of Festival of Europe to be held at the National Liberal Club in London on 18 October 2021, free and available to any AFO members.  Bookings by writing to [email protected]

For more information see the website

DCMS need supply industry evidence

Members will have recently received information asking for evidence of any hiccups, slow-downs, cancellations, difficulties with the events supply trade.  They are looking into how to help the industry alleviate the problems but need as always solid evidence, not hearsay and tittle-tattle.  If you have any evidence please forward it to me as soon as possible.

Event Recovery Programme

Readers will remember ERPs.  These were the pilot schemes that government put in place or indeed branded for trial runs to see how crowds behaved at the height of the pandemic.  The first was at Sefton Park in Liverpool and went on through Donnington Park, Latitude, Tramlines and many others.  The full report and detail of how all that went will be published by the end of October by DCMS – watch this space!

EIF/LGA meeting

On 26 October Local Government Association, DCMS, Licensing Officers, EHOs and many others are being invited to a meeting hosted by EIF to discuss consistency.  It is very well known that throughout the country even pre-pandemic Purple Guide Guidance, rules and regulations from Health and Safety and other bodies were being interpreted in several differing ways.  There is now a very strong attempt and a belief that they could be more uniform across the country and this meeting is one of those steps towards achieving consistency.

EIF have also made application for the Purple Guide to be endorsed by a primary authority, (in this case Liverpool City Council).  That would bring an agreement by all local authority users that the Purple Guide was the one to use and should be the reference point for all outdoor festivals and events.  A full report of the meeting will appear here at the end of October.

Budget Reviews

Government asked for autumn budget and spending review submissions and AFO presented separately and through LIVE and in particular asked that VAT should be retained at 5% on ticket sales through to the end of the 2023 season.  Agreeing that if the 12.5% had to come into place it should indeed be extended through to the end of the 2023 season.

AFO also asked that business rates should be completely scrapped for all festival sites.  Prior to Covid and throughout Covid it has become widely used by local authorities as a tax upon events taking place on agricultural land.  As readers will know agricultural land is zero rated and AFO believes that this should be extended to any events taking place on those fields.  However, government allowed local authorities and their rate reviews to impose rateable value if the fields were used for festivals and events.  In this Budget Review we have asked government to cancel that and go back to the zero rated.

The LIVE submission also looked at levelling up visas, work permits and international music travel and relief for annually open music venues.

British Sign Language (BSL)

At a recent LIVE meeting a speaker specialising in performance interpretation, Marie Pascall, spoke to the meeting and explained that signing at concerts and festivals was not as expensive as people may think, and in fact should have been in place for the last 10 years, though there is very little policing of the issues.  She fully understood the difficulties and financial constraints of festivals but pointed out that deaf and hard of hearing people, like many disabled people, do not attend festivals because they are not sure about what provisions would be in place.  i.e. there are people out there who will buy tickets if the provision is there (festival organiser please note).

90% of deaf people are born to normal hearing parents and quite often have full support of their families.  It should not be assumed that all deaf people consider themselves to be disabled and that many people regarded as deaf can actually feel the music and, in some cases, hear on specific wavelengths, some high, some low.  Marie’s recommendation is that a small space or seating could be allocated for deaf and hard of hearing people at concerts and festivals in front of a properly qualified signer.  It is never expected that all events and all concerts will be signed but it was hoped that marketing might include notification in advance, so giving deaf and hard of hearing people the option to choose whether to buy the tickets for one-off concerts or indeed the whole weekend festival.

She congratulated Festival Republic, Live Nation and Kilimanjaro as being ahead of the game, making themselves BSL (British Sign Language) accessible.  AFO might remind members of many years ago when it was first recommended that special toilet facilities be put in place for disabled people, and the outcry was supportive, but how would it be paid for?  Now it is commonplace and in fact a legal requirement.  In real terms deaf and disabled people should be accommodated and catered for.  In the first instance the festival organisers should make it known to customers that they are willing to cater for them and see how it affects ticket sales by inviting deaf and disabled people to contact festivals directly and discuss requirements before purchasing tickets.

Attitude Is Everything have prepared draft guidance for festivals in the area of BSL which are currently under review and will be published in full shortly.

Marie Pascall has already been invited to be a speaker at the next AFO Conference.

Passports and Covid Certification

As previously reported the English government have decided there will not be a passport requirement unless they are forced into enacting Plan B during the winter months.  In which case the need for a certification or passport will be reviewed.  In Scotland unfortunately the government are being made to look rather foolish as many promoters and indeed audiences are seen to be abusing the rules and ignoring the need to cover up and show proof of vaccination.  And it appears from information gathered, that ticket companies are equally ignoring the rules.  We are currently gathering information from Scotland to discover exactly what is happening on the ground and clarifying what the rules actually are.

England have made it very clear that they do not want passports or certification.  Wales and Scotland have different approaches and football have negotiated special rules including in Scotland.  Random tests at the door have proved to be quite successful in such places as the Royal Albert Hall and other national arenas and AFO recommends this route in the future.

In general, the outdoor events industry has voluntarily applied testing evidence rulings sometimes 100%, sometimes at random.  And it appears to have been very successful. 

Northern Ireland is following the English guidance.

DCMS have delivered a certification policy statement and are now calling for evidence and feedback, see government website and make your evidence available direct and/or through AFO office should you have any.  They are hoping for promoters, artists, customers, traders and suppliers to all make comments so that they can formulate a full plan and a way forward.  Unfortunately, the given deadline is 11 October which a reader at this point will quite likely have missed.  However, I still think the evidence you can provide would be valuable, so please do.

Supply Shortage Proof

As previously mentioned DCMS are looking for firm evidence on issues to do with the supply industry shortage of staff, equipment, late and non-delivery and general shortage of stock for our whole industry.  AFO have joined with EIF and put out a survey for immediate return.  You should have received yours, if not ask [email protected] and make your return as soon as possible.

General Secretary Diary

Since I last wrote Costa del Folk (Harmony Voyages) have organised and run a very successful mini festival in Portugal.  They have now returned and are planning their next event in Aviemore in December.

28 September I had a meeting with Duncan Siegle from Mash Media, publishers of Access All Areas, to discuss AFO involvement in the Event Production Show early next year, more on this later.

30 September our regular LIVE Executive meeting previously reported and, in the evening, the AFO Members meeting which brought together 15 members and guest speaker from Festival of Europe.

4 October met with Nick Summers, new Managing Director at NCASS. To discuss gas safety on festival and event sites, in particular but our conversation went generally across links between AFO and NCASS.  AFO still recommends that any caterers on any festival sites should be NCASS members, so saving the festival organiser the aggravation of having to find the necessary paperwork, licensing, Health and Safety statements etc. as these will all be provided through the NCASS system.

6 October AFO was represented at the Vision2025 Steering Group meeting which discussed in particular the DCMS Select Committee recommendation to government for sustainability agreements and actions within event licensing.  AFO made it clear that we would not want to see the four licensing objectives added to or modified to include sustainability, but fully supported a general statement that sustainability should be seriously considered in festival licensing and fully supports Vision2025 idea of a Code of Conduct to be embraced by organisers and local authorities.  It was also discussed that a chapter in the Purple Guide should be written, funding for which is currently being sought.

7 October the main full LIVE meeting discussed certification in particular and was followed by a DCMS Festivals Working Group meeting to understand what happens if Plan B is put in place.

11 October the AFO Climate Action Group will meet and on 12 October the Events Industry Summit Conference Steering Group will meet.  AFO represented at both.

I expect to be writing my next Diary at the end of October/early November. Should any members have items for this News that they wish to share with other members then please do submit it to [email protected] as soon as reasonably possible.

Steve Heap: 12th Oct 2021 11:00:00

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