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UK to face “festival wasteland” without gov support

The UK’s Association of Independent Festivals says that over 90% of its members could be bankrupted by refund requests this summer

By IQ on 13 May 2020

UK to face "festival wasteland" without government support

Boomtown is among AIF member festivals to cancel its 2020 edition

image © Charlie Raven

The UK’s Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) has warned that 92% of its 65 members could collapse under refund requests if the government does not take “meaningful action” to support them.

AIF festivals alone generate an estimated £386 million for the UK economy each year, with the wider British music business contributing £5.2 billion to the economy in 2018.

However, it is predicted that at least 90% of all UK festivals will not take place this summer, meaning the sector could be facing potential refunds of up £800m in total.

Glastonbury Festival was the first major UK event to call time on 2020, with AIF members Bluedot, Boomtown, Black Deer, Bloodstock, Cornbury, 2000 Trees and ArcTanGent among those to cancel.

Major live music conglomerates Live Nation and AEG have also made a number UK festival cancellations in recent weeks, with Live Nation-owned promoter Festival Republic most recently calling off its twin festivals Reading and Leeds.

Almost all (98.5%) of AIF’s 65 member festivals are not covered for coronavirus-related cancellations, with events reporting an average of £375,000 in non-recoupable costs for 2020.

A recent AIF survey has revealed that over half of those making up the independent festival sector in the UK could be facing redundancy from September 2020 onwards if no extra support is given.

“This is not a temporary shutdown of business – it is an entire year of income and trade wiped out”

The AIF, as part of the wider UK Live Music Group, is lobbying the government to ask for clear guidance on when large-scale events will be permitted again, as well as detailed information on what social distancing measures would be expected to ensure public safety.

The organisation has also asked for value-added tax (VAT) breaks on ticket sales for a minimum of 18 months; a continuation of all existing employment schemes; and acknowledgement of the distinction between retail and seasonal business in ongoing business support schemes.

“The government has not taken meaningful action to protect our sector,” says AIF CEO Paul Reed. “This is not a temporary shutdown of business – it is an entire year of income and trade wiped out. If support is not offered throughout the autumn, then the sector will face widespread job losses that will seriously inhibit its ability to deliver events in 2021.”

Reed adds that many independent festivals have “fallen between the cracks” of current support measures, with no AIF members gaining access to the government’s business interruption loans scheme.

“Next year’s festival season will hopefully offer much needed relief after a very difficult time for the country. But, for now, these independent businesses need to survive. Otherwise, every year from now could be a fallow year for independent festivals, for the emerging artists they provide a platform for, and the local economies across the UK that they generate income for.”

IQ’s next IQ Focus virtual panel, Festival Forum: Here Comes 21, features Rachael Greenfield, director of AIF member festival Bloodstock Open Air, along with Anders Wahren (Roskilde Festival), Jim King (AEG Presents), Stephan Thanscheidt (FKP Scorpio), and Mathieu Jaton (Montreux Jazz Festival).

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