UK Music Chief Executive writes on the huge challenges facing the live music industry in 2021

Jamie Njoku-Goodwin writes for Times Red Box on how we can restart the live music industry when it's safe.

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05.01.2021: Jamie Njoku-Goodwin writes for Times Red Box on how we can restart the live music industry when it’s safe.

Britain’s live music scene is the envy of the world, a national asset that generates billions of pounds for the economy, supports thousands of jobs across the country, and draws millions of music tourists to all four corners of the UK.

It boosts our global reputation and plays a key role in our regions and communities too: a 110,000-capacity festival can be worth more than £27m to the area it takes place in, as the Music Venue Trust estimates that for every £10 spent on a ticket for a live music event, £17 goes back into the local economy.

Covid-19 has been devastating for the sector and all those who work in it. Live events thrive on social contact. As that has been restricted, our industry has struggled to survive — and while the public health measures have been necessary to combat the pandemic, they have dealt a cruel blow to what has always been a proudly successful and self-reliant industry.

As a responsible sector, we have been doing everything we can to make live music environments safer. That includes installing new ventilation and air purification systems that dramatically reduce the risk of transmission, working with the government to develop new guidance, and using rapid testing to keep infections out of event spaces.

We are doing this not just to make our industry safe from the current threat; we want to insulate the performance sector from future epidemics too. In our increasingly globalised world, we can no longer assume that pandemics are a once-in-a-century occurrence. Our ambition is therefore to make live music events some of the country’s safest environments for social contact. We don’t know when the next pandemic will strike, but as an industry we are determined to be ready for it when it does.

The public health risks are not the only challenge we have faced. Covid-19 has had devastating economic consequences too, with huge ramifications on cost, confidence and certainty.

Much of the live music sector works to long lead times, with many festivals and large events requiring at least six months of planning in advance. While the pandemic is worsening today, ministers speak of “light at the end of the tunnel” and a spring “end date”, but it is not clear what this means for us as a sector. Without more clarity from the government on when events will be allowed to take place without social distancing, the sector will have neither the notice nor the confidence to plan major events this year.

The challenge is being made additionally difficult by the fact that we have struggled to secure adequate insurance for events. The commercial insurance market is not currently offering viable Covid-19 cancellation policies for festivals, and the financial risk of planning a major event without proper insurance is too great for many organisers to bear. This market failure should be urgently addressed by the government, as the lack of viable insurance options is the biggest barrier to festivals and live music events taking place in 2021. Germany and Austria have both created funds to cover the cancellation costs of events. With other countries acting to protect their events industries, it is vital that the UK does not get left behind.

As infection rates soar across the country and tighter restrictions loom, now may seem a strange time to talk about saving summer. However, while the outlook for the next few months looks grim, if the vaccine rollout goes to plan and ministers’ optimism about a spring end point are borne out, then the middle of the year could be the start of the national post-pandemic recovery.

To be clear, we are not asking to open as a sector before it is safe to do so. But now is when the key decisions about the summer events season are being taken, and if organisers do not have the confidence to plan then we will soon see major cancellations.

The UK boasts a world-leading live music scene: Glastonbury, Latitude, Parklife, Boomtown and the Proms, to name but a few. When the time comes to recover from this pandemic, our world-famous festivals can help drive an economic and a cultural revival. But without urgent action now to provide certainty and security for our live events industry, many major festivals will not have the confidence or preparation time to go ahead this year. This would be a disaster for our sector — and a huge loss for the country.

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