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UK promoters hit out at drug testing ‘U-turn’

Manchester's Parklife festival was reportedly unable to test confiscated pills after the Home Office said it required a special licence

By James Hanley on 15 Jun 2023

Parklife co-founder Sacha Lord welcomes the Live Events Reinsurance Scheme

UK promoters have accused the Home Office of putting gig-goers “at risk” following an apparent U-turn on drug testing at festivals.

The Guardian reports that Manchester’s 80,000-cap Parklife festival was unable to test confiscated pills last weekend after drug testing nonprofit The Loop was informed it needed to apply for a special licence rather than relying on its agreement with the police.

Parklife co-founder and night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester Sacha Lord decries the late intervention by the government department.

“Drug testing onsite has been an essential part of the work we do with the support of Greater Manchester police to keep festivalgoers safe. This move is a disappointing, senseless U-turn of government policy that puts people at risk,” he says.

“This huge misstep from the Home Office could set a potentially dangerous precedent for the summer’s festival season. We call for an immediate reversal of this decision so that organisers can continue to prioritise the safety of festivalgoers.”

“If festival organisers fear their safeguarding measures will be pulled at the 11th hour, then how can we guarantee the wellbeing of our guests?”

The Heaton Park event had worked with police and The Loop to test confiscated drugs on site for the previous eight years. Attendees were previously able to submit drugs for testing to establish their content before consumption, with a “push notification” alert subsequently sent to them if the tests show the drugs are a serious threat to health.

Festival Republic MD Melvin Benn describes the latest turn of events is “extremely worrying” for both the industry and fans.

“If festival organisers fear their safeguarding measures will be pulled at the 11th hour, then how can we guarantee the wellbeing of our guests?” he tells the Guardian.

In response, a spokesperson for the Home Office says: “Anyone interested in undertaking lawful activities involving the possession, supply or production of controlled drugs, including those who wish to provide drug testing services, need to apply for a Home Office licence.

“Festival organisers in consultation with local partners are responsible for decisions relating to drug testing at festivals. We will continue an open dialogue with prospective licensees throughout the festival season.”

According to festival organisers, a Home Office licence can cost in excess of £3,000

In 2016, Secret Garden Party became the first British camping festival to give attendees the chance to test the content of their drugs without fear of recrimination, with Kendal Calling following a week later. Jon Drape, whose Ground Control Productions company works with Kendal Calling, told IQ at the time drug testing is a “no-brainer”, adding around a quarter of those who tested their drugs opted to bin them after discovering their content.

According to festival organisers, a Home Office licence can take more than three months to be granted, and can cost in excess of £3,000 (€3,500).

It was recently announced, meanwhile, that drug harm-reduction campaign piloted by the Irish HSE (Health and Safety Executive) at last summer’s Electric Picnic is being rolled out across a number of other festivals in Ireland.

The Safer Nightlife programme will include “back of house” drug checking through the use of surrender bins, media awareness and a social media campaign. Teams of HSE trained volunteers will available to talk about the scheme, drug trends and harm-reduction practices with attendees, while also supporting people in cases of drug emergencies.


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