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UK Touring and Live Events State of the Nation – An update

I have received many descriptions of this past year – crazy world, surreal times to paraphrase a few. Whilst not having come through it unscathed ourselves, we have been fortunate enough to survive this extremely challenging period largely intact when sadly, some have not. The last 18 months has been about adapting to ensure survival, the next 18 months is about recovery…….

I think it is fair to say that we are not out of the woods yet with Covid infection rates currently rising again and the potential new variants still posing a threat. Combining this together with the additional complication of red tape with travel/work restrictions for the touring industry and the shortage of experience and specialist technical expertise continue to make for a very worrying and unsettling time. There are warnings that it could take at least another 3 years for the UK live music and events industry to recover and it may not resume to the same market leading status mantle that it had proudly become.

Theatres have been thrown into darkness and large venues lost 75% of their income in 2020. We have seen the launch of a new government backed £1.57bn Culture Recovery fund from The Arts Council which has come to the aid of the arts sector covering theatres, heritage sites and small venue trusts. Some within the live music sector have been granted funds from the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) while the stages fell silent, but this all needs to be paid back…

Many companies have had to adapt to the best of their ability and do whatever is necessary to ride the storm. Whilst it’s also had its challenges, the installation market has managed to see its way through with us seeing a multitude of remote, virtual and recording studio builds steaming ahead with music, conferences and live events being streamed as the slightly reluctant but necessary ‘new normal’. Canford has also been integral to the supply chain of broadcast system integrators when sports events came back to life with the Euros and the Olympics, as well as the continued supply of products including custom manufactured ‘transport proof’ racks and panels into stadia for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.


Andy Dockerty, MD of Adlib and key campaigner for ‘We Make Events’ comments:
“The live events industry has endured a horrific 18 months Having seen many companies fall by the wayside since the initial lockdown in March 2020, there is still a long way to go for all of the existing organisations within the live industry supply chain. The industry was never told to close and consequently many organisations missed out on grants/rate relief that other sectors like hospitality benefitted from. Throughout the whole period from 20th March 2020 to 19th July 2021, the live events industry could not work. Hospitality at least had opportunities to work throughout that period albeit they had restrictions meaning that they probably did not make any money but had the advantage of minimising their losses. The live events supply chain unfortunately continued to accrue debt throughout the whole period. Many organisations report business was between 90% and 95% down on previous years. The sector was basically disproportionately disadvantaged in comparison to almost every other sector throughout the whole of lock down. Then came the government announcement of the 19th July 2021.

From the beginning of lock down, the government had stated that upon opening up society they would review mass gatherings and large indoor gatherings. Consequently on the 19th July, the majority of the live events Industry was shocked that no restrictions were applied to anything. The good news being we returned slightly quicker than anticipated. The bad news being the whole sector was not ready for it and were completely under resourced. Every element of the sector is suffering from various issues. One of the major issues being the incredible lack of staff that all organisations are suffering from. We predicted at the beginning of all this that people would leave the industry - and they have. Many senior technicians have moved into other sectors with more resources, like App writing, code writing or game writing for example. There are many people still not confident enough to return and are still in driving jobs or working in supermarkets. Others (although they may have loved the sector) have reviewed its demands and wish to be at home in the evenings and weekends. They have completely changed their livelihoods even if they do not earn what they did when they were touring. Combine this with people who have had to return home since Brexit and the whole sector has lost many of its specialist skilled technicians and crew and is now suffering massively as a consequence. As predicted, when our sector was allowed to open back up, it was not expected to return so quickly and without any restrictions. Consequently, venues, production warehouses and the entire live events supply chain are currently vastly understaffed.

The sector is also suffering from the inability of manufacturers to supply product. Due to the worldwide shortage of electronic components, many manufacturers are not able to supply product. This affects both the rental and installation markets. Manufacturers’ costs are also rising sharply due to material shortages and the astronomical rise in containers and freight. This of course provides further stress to the live Sector as it may not be able to deliver the latest specifications required. It affects installation and sales markets due to the fact that delivery dates and quotes are struggling to be honoured at the pricing initially quoted.

Just to add to this, we have the wonder of Brexit. The true effects of this have not hit our sector yet and are somewhat masked by the Covid crisis. The UK production industry is set up to serve Europe, not just the UK. All major US, Canadian, Australian and in fact most worldwide artists will utilise UK production companies to serve their tours throughout the UK and Europe. We are the world leader. As it currently stands with there being basically a no deal Brexit for our sector, the large amount of income generated from Europe for UK organisations could come to an end. The current cabotage regulations around trucking render UK companies touring around Europe improbable. Any truck leaving the UK has to return to the UK within 7 days and can only do 3 drops. This of course means that EU touring as it currently stands is impossible. There appears to be a reluctance from the government to even broach the subject with the industry. Lord Frost has been invited to meetings    
 to discuss this and has either failed to turn up or declined to attend. We sincerely hope that we receive more clarity in the near future otherwise one of the UK’s greatest exports and industries will decline through no fault of the sector itself.

So to conclude, our sector, the live events supply chain, is massively underappreciated and not truly supported by government. As #WeMakeEvents, we shall continue working to get SIC codes reviewed. To explain, SIC codes are utilised by the government to determine what sector the taxation is coming in from. Currently our sector comes under the title “other” followed by numerous codes thereafter to select. If we all come under the one code when surrendering our corporation tax returns, the government may start to appreciate that we are a £70bn sector and not just an industry which ultimately provides the nation with events that generate a feel good factor. It is not just art, it provides huge income to the UK economy. Prior to lock-down, it was the fastest growing sector in the UK. It is an industry that currently has massive staff shortages and it will likely be a while before there are enough people to fill all of the vast gaps. The good news is that we have returned and there is lots of work, however, let us not forget that we have all accrued huge debt that now needs to be paid alongside all the normal working costs. Combine this with rapidly rising prices of both equipment and general running costs (fuel, trucking etc.) and it is only a matter of time that many organisations are going to struggle to clear those debts that have accumulated through lock-down. Regrettably I feel we may lose more companies over the next 12 months or so and then there is Brexit…. Covid is the here and now, Brexit is for life. The true devastation of that is yet to be revealed.

The sector has never suffered from shortages and stress in quite the way that it is at the moment. The next 12 months will be unstable and worrying for many. We would hope that over the next 12 months there will be positive progression around Brexit and some overdue government support for a sector that has been dis-proportionately disadvantaged. It is fabulous we are back working again and it is looking busy for the next 12 months. However, we all need more recognition and support.”

It is finally good to see the return of in-person events albeit there is likely to be a little trepidation for some and ticket sales are still down in comparison to pre-Covid times. Government guidelines relating to vaccine passports vary across the UK. However, venues are encouraged to request proof of vaccination, negative test result or recent immunity. This was indeed the way forward for Plasa 2021. The show received high acclaim, it was well attended and it was a great platform for the industry to come back to life and to share stories of the last 18 months through in-person face to face contact and not via a video screen. Long awaited customer visits have resumed and fingers crossed for a speedy recovery.

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