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Success of government’s ‘culture recovery fund’ questioned as festivals teeter on brink of collapse

Success of government’s ‘culture recovery fund’ questioned as festivals teeter on brink of collapse
New report questions lack of support for festivals and freelance workers within the culture sector

The effectiveness of the government’s culture recovery fund has been called into question by a new report highlighting how music festivals are currently teetering on the brink of collapse.

The Public Accounts Committee is calling for better support for live music events, which are in peril for a second year due to the lack of government-backed insurance in the event of pandemic-related cancellations.

Concerns were also raised about whether freelancers and supply chains that are essential to the culture sector have been able to access support from the fund.

In March, The Independent reported how many freelance workers in the live music industry such as tour managers and sound technicians had been forced to take on jobs as shelf-stackers in supermarkets to make ends meet.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced the £1.57bn support package, dubbed the “Culture Recovery Fund”, in July 2020. Its primary goal was to rescue 75 per cent of arts, culture and heritage institutions in the UK during lockdown.

While the committee acknowledged the department’s efforts to support cultural organisations, it pointed out that there is a “survival threat” faced by Britain’s summer music festivals. In the past few months, Glastonbury, Download, Kendal Calling and Boomtown have all been forced to cancel their plans to go ahead in 2021.

The government has ignored repeated calls to implement an insurance scheme so festivals have a safety net should they be forced to cancel due to Covid.

In May, culture secretary Dowden told a DCMS committee meeting that the idea of a government-backed insurance scheme would only be explored once further lockdown restrictions lift, which will not be until 19 July, after Stage 4 of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown was delayed.

With the original 19 June date in mind, Conservative MP Heather Wheeler said this would likely be “all too late” for organisers due to the months of planning required for festivals to take place.

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“This would have been a very cheap deal to have been done, because the government are confident that 21 June is D-Day… in which case, you didn’t need to spend any money on insurance,” she said. “But it’s too late for the planning for so many of these summer festivals. It’s just too late.”

“We’ve probably lost another summer,” she added.

Insurance companies are currently refusing to cover Covid-related cancellations, meaning festivals face massive financial losses and even risk bankruptcy if they are forced to cancel last-minute.

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said in the report: “The pandemic has exposed just how poorly departments across Government understand the sectors that they oversee. DCMS was clear that it ‘would not save every organisation’ but we are concerned about the impact of Covid-19 on those organisations vital to the culture sector – sound engineers, lighting and technical support.

“The government must urgently consider support other than cash, such as insurance indemnity or parts of the sector risk as second summer of forced inactivity with all the devastating consequences to their survival.”

Ms Hillier said that the sector, known for “making the show go on”, had been “hammered” by the pandemic and brought almost to a complete standstill for most of the past 15 months.

“If the pandemic is allowed to steal a significant part of our creative and cultural sector it will have impoverished us indeed,” she said.

The committee is recommending that the department should respond to its report within three months with details of how it plans to secure “longer-term value for money” with the cultural recovery fund, and what it intends to do to support overlooked members of the industry, such as festivals and freelance workers.

The Independent has contacted the DCMS for comment.