Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cameron Mackintosh and the live music industry are taking legal action to force the government to hand over the results of its live event pilot scheme.
The Events and Research Programme (ERP) has seen test audiences attending events like the FA Cup Final, the Download festival and the Brit Awards.
Event organisers had expected the findings to be made available last week, allowing them to plan ahead for the rest of the summer, but publication was delayed without explanation.
“The short-term hit is stark,” said the live event industries in a statement announcing their legal action.
“Research indicates that the potential four-week delay to reopening will lead to about 5,000 live music gigs being cancelled, as well as numerous theatre productions across the country, costing hundreds of millions of pounds in lost income.”
Responding to the legal challenge, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: “We understand a delay to full reopening is challenging for live events but we are helping our creative industries and sporting bodies through it.”
It noted the ERP was ongoing, and said results would be published “before the move to step four” of the end of lockdown restrictions, which is now expected in July.
In the meantime, event organisers have questioned why events like Wimbledon and the Euro finals can take place with large-to-full audiences (albeit as part of the pilot scheme), while their shows are being curtailed.
“The government’s actions are forcing theatre and music companies off a cliff as the summer wears on, whilst cherry-picking high-profile sporting events to go ahead,” said Lord Lloyd-Webber. “The situation is beyond urgent.”
“We simply must now see the data that is being used to strangle our industry so unfairly.”
Craig Hassall, CEO of the Royal Albert Hall, added: “The chronic uncertainty and endless indecisiveness from government, and pilot events with no published results, have damaged audience confidence and further harmed a sector that has already been decimated by the pandemic.”
Lord Lloyd-Webber was previously offered the chance to open his new musical, Cinderella, at full capacity under the pilot programme, but declined in solidarity with other theatre owners.
On Tuesday, culture minister Nigel Huddleston was asked to explain why the government had delayed publishing data on test events.
“We want to get the information and data out very soon,” he told MPs in parliament. “We will be publishing the information shortly, as well as guidance to help events open.”
The legal action has been taken by a group including Lord Lloyd-Webber and his fellow West End producers Sonia Friedman and Cameron Mackintosh. Others supporting the action include Peter Gabriel, of the Womad festival, and the live music body, LIVE.
As well as their attempt to force the publication of the ERP research, the group are calling for a government-backed insurance fund to cover live events this summer.
Such a scheme would mean cancelled shows could get their money back; while the government would make a profit on any events that go ahead.
The live industry has been calling for this assistance – which is already afforded to the film and TV industry – since the start of the year.
MPs on the Public Accounts Committee also called for such a scheme to be set up in a report issued on Wednesday.
Mr Huddleston said the government was “aware of wider concerns about the industry, including insurance”.
“We are considering options, and we are taking those issues very seriously,” he added.
A falling out?
Meanwhile, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has commented on his relationship with Lord Lloyd-Webber, for an episode of BBC Radio 4’s Political Thinking.
In the interview, taped before Thursday’s legal action was announced, presenter Nick Robinson asked: “Why did you fall out with Lloyd Webber? He threatened to go to prison at one point and then he said he wouldn’t take part in the pilot scheme. He’s pretty miffed.”
“I certainly personally haven’t fallen out with Andrew Lloyd Webber,” Mr Dowden replied. “I get on very well with him and I know how passionate he is about the theatre.”
Mr Robinson continued: “He said he thought theatre was [being treated as] an afterthought – and you put big sporting events like Euro 2020 and Wimbledon ahead of them.”
“Well that certainly isn’t the case and I value both of them exactly the same,” Mr Dowden responded.
The full interview will be available on BBC Sounds from Friday, 25 June.