road map

UK live events road map: 5 key questions the industry still need answering

On Monday (February 22), UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined the government’s COVID-19 road map, detailing a gradual and “irreversible” easing of lockdown restrictions. But while the announcement provided some much needed clarity on the reopening of everything from schools and sporting events to retail and hospitality, questions still remain over what exactly lies in store for the live events industry.

Spread over four stages, the road map begins on March 8, with schools reopening and a slight lifting of social distancing measures, and culminates on June 21 with the complete removal of all COVID-19 restrictions. Described by the Prime Minister as “irreversible”, he was also keen to point out that the road map is very much a best case scenario timetable that is subject to change should infection rates rise.

Crucially, the road map does include provisions for the live events industry, which has been devastated by the pandemic and effectively closed since March 2020. Stage three, starting May 27, is when small-scale concerts and performances may see a return. Details on precisely what form these may take are unclear, although it is thought that they would involve socially distanced, seated audiences. Almost one month later on June 21 is when all restrictions will cease, meaning a return for concerts of all sizes, festivals and nightclubs.

So, while there now appears to be some light at the end of what has been an unfathomably long, dark tunnel, there are still multiple issues that require clarification.

Here are five key questions that need to be answered before the live events industry can make a meaningful return.

What support measures will be in place for the industry between now and June 21?

With thousands of businesses and livelihoods destroyed by the pandemic, another four months is a very long time for companies and events professionals to wait. Indeed, a new WeMakeEvents survey found that 34 per cent of companies don’t think they will survive until June.

As such, the organisation is calling for government to provide grants, not loans, for live events businesses so they can make it through the next four months.

What hope for freelancers?

Freelancers and self-employed workers make up around 70 per cent of the live events industry, many of which haven’t been eligible for government financial support through lockdown. Without protections for these professionals, the industry could face a significant talent drain, particularly with a lack of certainty on how exactly events will return.

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How and when can planning begin on large scale events?

With June 21 currently a best case scenario for a return to live events, festival and tour organisers are largely unable to begin planning for their return. This is partly due to the huge lead time required to organise a large-scale event or tour, which can take anywhere between 6-12 months, as well as the lack of insurance currently being offered to events – something currently being lobbied for by LIVE, the UK’s first, newly formed live music trade body.

As it stands, the risk of putting on an event without government-funded insurance is simply far too high for promoters and organisers.

Will the five percent VAT on ticket sales be extended?

At present, a reduced rate cultural VAT of five per cent exists on ticket sales, which is in line with DCMS committee recommendations. However, the rate, introduced last year, has been largely inconsequential due to the fact virtually no tickets have been sold. LIVE is currently lobbying government to extend this concession with the #KeepItAt5% campaign. At present, it is unclear if an extension will be granted.

Just how “irreversible” is the road map?

The Prime Minister has been unequivocal in his commitment to the “irreversible” nature of the COVID-19 roadmap. However, throughout the pandemic, the government has performed a number of u-turns on everything from lockdown measures to school meals and exam results. Johnson has also stated that the road map will follow the data, not dates, suggesting the dates outlined in his announcement are far from set in stone.

Clarity on these dates will likely become more apparent over the coming weeks in line with COVID-19 infection and vaccination rates.


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