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Music Festivals: Covid-19-related Cancellations

Volume 811: debated on Tuesday 27 April 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to introduce a government-backed insurance scheme to provide cover for music festivals this summer against COVID-related cancellations.

My Lords, the Government recognise the importance of the UK’s live music sector. More than £21 million from the Culture Recovery Fund has supported over 100 music festivals to ensure that they survive and can put on events in future. We are aware of the sector’s concern about securing indemnity insurance, and we continue to assess all available options to provide further support as the public health context evolves.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that providing Covid insurance would help various groups of people—the creative sector, of course, and local communities, but, perhaps most importantly, the festival-going public, including many young people? The Government have provided indemnity for film and TV. They urgently need to do so for live events and save our festivals this summer.

The Government are extremely keen that the festival-going public should have a chance to enjoy live events as quickly as possible, and that is what is behind our events research programme, but we need to be absolutely confident that any scheme would result in an increase in activity.

My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of the Royal College of Music. My noble friend will be aware that many students rely on performances outside term time for income, which is vital to support their studies, and have therefore been particularly hard hit in this last year. Will she take the plight of students and recent graduates specifically into account when further considering this issue in order to ensure that the income of young performers is protected as far as possible this summer?

My noble friend is of course right that that pipeline of performers is critical. I will share his concerns with colleagues in the department.

My Lords, I share the suggestion from my noble friend Lord Clancarty for help to jumpstart the insurance for live events. Is the Minister able to update us at all on bilateral talks involving work permits and visas? That is another aspect of a musician’s life that, combined with Covid, has created a very difficult position, as the Minister knows.

I can reassure the noble Lord that we are in conversations with individual member states focusing particularly on improving guidance regarding entry and work permit regulations. We are also looking carefully at proposals for a new export office to support this sector.

My Lords, the Budget extended the film and television insurance scheme to its present level of £2.8 billion, and it has supported 200 productions and saved an estimated 24,000 jobs. It therefore seems a little strange to recall that only yesterday the Minister said that the Government

“are trying to understand the market failure and how it impacts on different forms of live events.”—[Official Report, 26/4/21; col. 2074.]

She did not repeat that when she responded to the Question today. Will she explain what specific issues the department does not understand about this process?

I am extremely happy to clarify those points. There are a number of interlocking issues—the noble Lord smiles, but it is true—into which we are carrying out reviews. I refer to the events research programme to understand the impact on public health as a result of those events; our review on social distancing; our review on certification and, which is connected, the global travel review.

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, pointed out, the sector has already been impacted by the failure of the Brexit negotiations to protect the creative industries. In the Minister’s reply today, she did not say no—she said perhaps. Is it not time to stop squirming? We are now into April and this sector needs a decision.

We are not squirming and we are not hesitating. We are progressing as fast as we can, but the noble Lord would be the first to criticise the Government if we opened too early and the public health crisis re-emerged.

My Lords, the Minister is of course right that we should be continually guided by data, but slippage in the Government’s Covid road map will have a significant effect and impact this summer on staging music and other cultural festivals as well as large-scale sporting events, such as July’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone. I remind the Minister that the Chancellor said that when it came to economic support he would do whatever it takes, so why are the Government dragging their feet on matters such as insurance, leaving promoters and fans alike in limbo and unable to plan ahead?

I can only repeat that the Government are not dragging their feet. We have research pilots running in April and May that include an outdoor music festival in Sefton, and these will feed into decisions on step 4 of the road map in June. The evidence that we are gathering is aligned with the dates for the road map, but we cannot anticipate what that evidence will show.

My Lords, I want to follow on from the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, in relation to sporting events in general rather than high-profile ones. There are many lower-profile sporting events that require the booking of hundreds of hotel rooms and other facilities. If they cannot get insurance then those sporting events cannot take place, and they are planned literally years ahead.

My noble friend is right that the issue of indemnity cover cuts across a range of sectors. The Government have supported the sports sector both by allowing events to take place behind closed doors and through the £600 million sport survival fund.

My Lords, in response to my Question yesterday, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson mentioned, the Minister said that the Government were

“aware of the wider concerns around indemnity for live events and are trying to understand the market failure and how it impacts on different forms of live events.”—[Official Report, 26/4/21; col. 2074.]

Is it not simple? Does not this admission of market failure mean that intervention can be justified and should be acted upon?

I am sure the noble Baroness would agree that before taking that decision we need to understand the impact on infection rates of removing or amending social distancing, not using masks, the role of certification and the impact of allowing global travel, which all have a bearing on the viability of these events.

My Lords, while I appreciate what my noble friend is seeking to do, will she accept that musicians face a triple whammy? First, if the festivals cannot be insured, they cannot perform at them; secondly, many of them are self-employed but do not benefit from the provisions that are designed to help the self-employed; and, thirdly, the visa problem compounds these others.

The Government have been very clear in acknowledging the multiple challenges that my noble friend has outlined. That is why we have announced major funding for the sector, particularly through the Culture Recovery Fund and, most recently, in the expansion of the self-employed income support scheme. We continue to work closely with the sector to ensure that we can respond as needed.

I declare my interest as a theatre producer and as chair of a leading live entertainment marketing company. The theatre sector—certainly the whole of the commercial sector—depends to a large extent on angels investing. Angels have always invested on the basis that a show can get business interruption insurance. I do not understand, and I wonder whether the Minister could explain, why the Government cannot prevail on insurance companies to do what their business is, which is to insure people. There may be an additional cost, but it seems to me that the problem lies with the insurance companies, not the Government.

I do not think this is about pointing a finger in one direction or another. We are trying to find a solution to this issue and are working with all the key stakeholders to do so.