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Lloyd Webber joins legal bid to force publication of research on Covid restrictions on theatres and concerts

The Independent logo The Independent 24/06/2021 Andrew Woodcock
Andrew Lloyd Webber wearing a suit and tie: PA-60263353.jpg © PA PA-60263353.jpg

Representatives of the UK’s music and theatre industry, including Andrew Lloyd Webber, have launched legal action to force the government to publish results of its research into the impact of relaxing Covid restrictions.

Composer Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group joined high profile figures from the entertainment world – also including musical theatre impresario Cameron Mackintosh and the music industry body LIVE – to bring proceedings to force ministers to hand over the report on phase 1 of its Events Research Programme (ERP).

The ERP has carried out trials of Covid mitigations, such as mask-wearing and pre-entry testing, in a variety of sports, entertainment and conference venues in a bid to determine how mass attendance events can safely be resumed.

But the government has so far refused to release its findings, amid accusations from some quarters that ministers do not want the publication of evidence which might bolster the case for a swifter reopening of society at a time when the Delta variant is forcing up coronavirus infections.

Lord Lloyd Webber said: “Last week I rejected the government’s invitation for Cinderella to be singled out as a last-minute part of the Events Research Programme.

“Today, with a range of voices from across the theatre and live entertainment industries, we are forced to take it further. We simply must now see the data that is being used to strangle our industry so unfairly.

“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. The situation is beyond urgent.”

Culture minister Nigel Huddleston resisted MPs’ demands for publication of results in a Commons debate on Tuesday, when former minister Mark Harper voiced suspicions that the findings were “fantastically positive” after test events including the FA Cup final at Wembley, the Brit Awards and the World Snooker Championship went ahead without causing outbreaks.

Backers of the legal action said that these events, and last weekend’s Download festival for 10,000 people, had been “a huge success… showing that with proper precautions in place, live events at full capacity can go ahead safely.”

Event operators have appealed unsuccessfully for government backing for an insurance scheme for the sector or for clear indications of any ongoing mitigations set to be required for the future, making it all but impossible for them to plan ahead.

Industry research indicates that the four-week delay to the planned reopening date of 21 June will lead to the cancellation of around 5,000 live music gigs as well as many theatre productions across the country, costing hundreds of millions of pounds in lost income.

In the legal action lodged today, the industry bodies assert that the government has flagrantly breached the “duty of candour” which requires it to be transparent when faced with a legal challenge and that none of the reasons given for withholding the Events Research Programme material they seek withstand scrutiny. They have asked for an urgent court hearing as soon as possible.

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Peter Gabriel, founder of the world music festival Womad, said a decision must be made by the end of this week on whether to cancel the event in Wiltshire.

“Millions of pounds of investment and the livelihood of around 5,000 people are at stake,” he said. “Without immediate government intervention, the festival industry is on the brink of collapse. That doesn’t mean cash, it means providing the certainty to enable us to deliver festivals, guidance on safety, and an understanding of how their timing affects us in the real world.”

And Les Miserables producer Cameron Mackintosh said: “Having been forced to close our theatres twice last year, the second time after the government encouraged reopening for Christmas, losing further millions as a result, a joint insurance scheme to protect us against another enforced closure is vital.

“Along with most of the commercial theatre we have had absolutely no direct financial help either for our productions or the upkeep of our historic theatres.

“Opening without any sort of protection is impossible for many producers, live event organisers and theatre buildings across the country.

“Having contributed huge amounts of money to the exchequer over the last few decades, the theatre desperately needs to be supported in its hour of need or the government will be responsible for the disintegration of one of this country’s most priceless and irreplaceable assets after centuries of being the envy of the world.”

The head of the Bectu union, Philippa Childs, said: “Theatres and the live events industry were the first to close and look set to be the last to reopen.

“The flexibility shown for Euro 2020 has evidenced that where there is a will there is a way – we call on the government to stop moving the goalposts for culture and act with consistency across the economy.”

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