That was the heading on the governments press release of 5 July. Here at AFO we were delighted.
However, on closer inspection they tell us that a good proportion of this package will be in the form of loans with about £880M being handed out in grants.
For many months AFO along with colleagues at AIF, BAFA and UK Music have been discussing, gathering information, producing facts and figures to put forward a case for special sector funding to get us through the difficult months ahead.
On many occasions AFO has told DCMS “we are a seasonal festival business and 2020 is a write-off. This means we must survive throughout this summer and right through the next winter before we can earn our living again in the 2021 season.” Tom Kiehl of UK Music recently said “Last week saw hundreds of artists, venues, concerts, festivals, production companies and music fans lead a campaign to follow up a letter that had gone from several high level music stars to the Secretary of State for Digital Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden.”
AFO had no doubt at the time that as part of this live music campaign festivals were up there to be counted in. The government’s paper said, “Britain’s globally renowned artist, culture and heritage industries are being
given a world leading rescue package to help weather the impact of Corona Virus.”
The Prime Minister told parliament that he was doing all he could to support festivals and events and described our sector as “very, very valuable.” The Prime Minister went on to say, “From iconic theatres and musicals, mesmerising exhibitions at our world class galleries and gigs performed in venues, the UK’s cultural industry is the beating heart of our country.”
Oliver Dowden also said, “I understand the grave challenges the arts face and we must protect and preserve them all we can for future generations.” He repeated what he had said previously “We will not let down the arts.”
The Chancellor of the Exchequer said, “Our world-renowned galleries, museums, heritage sites and music venues are not only critical to keeping our economy thriving and employing more than 700,000 people, they are the life blood of British culture.”
On Monday 6 July AFO received a note from DCMS that suggested festivals may not be included in the package. Devastated, AFO set about gathering evidence as to whether this was true (yet to come at time of writing).
However, action is needed now. The time for talking and listening to the promises is largely over. The UK festival industry that contributes millions of pounds to the UK economy is now in an extremely precarious position. We have to fight our way to gaining a reasonably proportion of this rescue fund. DCMS told us that live music is amongst the sectors that will benefit, but it does seem that only music venues are specified in the papers. AFO would maintain that festivals are music venues and therefore should be included.
The government’s press release announcing the £1.57B rescue fund was released on 5July in order to meet press deadlines and TV news deadlines on the 6th. Interestingly the information was clearly released to a variety of people in advance, not least the Chief Executive of the Royal Opera House, the CEO of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Chief Executive of Society of London Theatres, the Chair of National Museums, the Chief Executive of The Ambassador Theatre Group and others. In the government’s press release they all speak as though they know that part of the funds is heading towards them. Will they not have to apply for them like the rest of us? Is this a level playing field? I think not!
AFO will now fight on all battle fields to achieve recognition and hopefully funding to help our festivals through this very difficult time.