Independent festivals could go bankrupt without government Covid insurance

Independent festival bosses and industry insiders have warned that their 2021 events risk cancellation if they fail to receive Government-backed insurance by the end of the month.

The government recently outlined plans for England to gradually exit lockdown by the end of June, with a selection of festivals confirming that they provisionally plan to go ahead in the wake of the announcement.

However, organisers now say that they are reluctant to shell out huge sums for the events without insurance as they run the risk of financial ruin if the road-map out of lockdown is delayed and prevents them from taking place.

Similar assurances of compensation have already been provided by the Dutch government, but the UK is yet to follow suit.

Speaking to NME, Association of Independent Festivals CEO Paul Reed said that government-backed insurance needs to be introduced before the end of March, when it is expected that independent festivals will have to start making major payments for this summer’s events.

“COVID simply isn’t covered by policies, so that’s why we think that there needs to be a government backed insurance scheme, with them essentially acting as the insurer as a last resort in the way the way that other governments have done across Europe to allow festival planning to go ahead with confidence,” Reed told NME.

Wolf Alice at Truck Festival
Wolf Alice at Truck Festival. Credit: Giles Smith

“There’s a real danger that even if everything goes according to plan and we’re in a better public health situation, we could actually end up not having a summer anyway because the vast majority will have decided to cancel and not take that risk, not commit that cost.”

Opening up on the stark risk that faces festivals that decide to go ahead without insurance, he added: “If they take that risk and the road map gets pushed back then it will absolutely sink them. They won’t be coming back.The industry has been shuttered for a whole year and festivals only have that one opportunity a year to generate income.”

As for the financial risks involved, Reed said that a recent survey of AIF members discovered that the average cost of staging an independent festival is over £6million.

One festival planning to go ahead this September is Hospitality Weekend In The Woods – a major Drum and Bass event which sold out within days of the lockdown roadmap being unveiled.

As well as the financial risks, Hospitality’s Event Director Josh Robinson warns that a lack of insurance is already causing logistical problems.

“We have a long list of suppliers and we’re currently delaying our payments for as long as is humanly possible so we stand less risk if the event is cancelled,” he told NME. “We’ve had to do cash projections for each month and basically delay our cash flow as much as possible, which makes things slightly trickier. It basically corrupts and messes up the entire supply chain for every supplier that brings these events to life.”

Opening up on the need for government-backed insurance, he added: “The road-map announcement from the Prime Minister was a bit of a double-edged sword.

“On one side, consumer confidence has absolutely sky-rocketed and everyone’s bought ticket in droves, but on the other side of the coin is that the money sits in a bank account and if you spend it on the shows then you potentially risk bankruptcy if the festival is postponed or cancelled.”

He added: “Every single promoter is now risking double. We’re in a double or quits scenario.  Government backed insurance is the only way to go.”

Other independent festivals that plan to go ahead this summer include pop extravaganza The Mighty Hoopla – which is set to return to South London’s Brockwell Park this September.

Mighty Hoopla
The Mighty Hoopla (Picture: Luke Dyson / Press)

Discussing the wider financial implications, festival director Jamie Tagg also raised concerns about potential knock-on effects for the independent contractors that have helped Mighty Hoopla become one of the capital’s most celebrated festivals.

“We’ve got to be very smart,” he told NME. “We’ve worked with the same suppliers that put the festival together for years, but what we don’t want to do is not pay anyone until the day before the festival because that’s extremely unfair.

“We want to support people, but we can’t be giving it upfront now.”

He added: “It definitely is a concern and we’ll remain on tenterhooks without it.”

NME has contacted the government for an official response.

Elsewhere, larger events such as Reading & Leeds FestivalParklife Festival and Green Man Festival have all announced plans to go ahead.

Live Nation sold 170,000 tickets in the three days following the government’s roadmap announcement, with Reading selling out entirely for 2021.