Mar 14, 2024 3 min read

Glastonbury announces headliners, as UK festival cancellations pass 20

Coldplay, Dua Lipa and SZA will headline Glastonbury this June, but 21 other UK festivals have announced that they will be cancelling or coming to an end in 2024. The Association Of Independent Festivals says that this number could top 100 if the government continues to ignore pleas for support

Glastonbury announces headliners, as UK festival cancellations pass 20

This year’s Glastonbury headliners have been announced, with Coldplay, Dua Lipa and SZA set to take to the Pyramid Stage in June. But at the same time, smaller festivals are struggling. The Association Of Independent Festivals announced today that more than 20 have now been postponed, cancelled or shut down entirely in 2024. 

In the last few days, the Nibley Festival has announced that its 2024 edition will be its last, and the Bingley Festival has cancelled its 2024 edition. That brings the total number of UK festivals not going ahead or coming to an end in 2024 to 21. And AIF says that without government intervention, that number could rise to more than 100.

“It’s with grave concern that we again sound the alarm to government upon passing this critical milestone”, says AIF CEO John Rostron. “UK festivals are disappearing at a worrying rate, and we as a nation are witnessing the erosion of one of our most successful and unique cultural industry sectors”.

Festival overheads have increased dramatically in the last year. Glastonbury counteracted this with a big ticket price hike - but was able to do so in the knowledge that hundreds of thousands of people will try to buy those tickets the moment they go on sale, even with the increase in price and without any artists having been announced. 

Other festivals are more nervous about instigating dramatic price increases. And while some independent festivals do enjoy a loyal audience who will also buy tickets as soon as they go on sale, there is another problem when it comes to setting the price. 

Those festivals often put tickets on sale for the next year as soon as any one edition has occurred, but in the current market it can be hard to anticipate just how much production costs will increase in the year ahead. Generally initial ticket prices are in the ballpark of the just staged edition, but from there costs have a long time in which to go up. And gone up they have.

Many of the issues stem from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the costs of running a festival have continued to rise since the lifting of the last lockdown. Key parts of the supply chain have been constricted, with many suppliers no longer in business. The raw materials for building festivals have gone up in price dramatically. And the pool of people available to work on festival builds has also shrunk.

It is not impossible to save the sector from further dramatic losses though. Many industry bodies have been calling for a reduction in VAT on ticket sales from the current 20%, and last month AIF launched its '5% For Festivals' campaign.

“We have done the research”, says Rostron. “A reduction of VAT to 5% on festival tickets over the next three years is a conservative, targeted and temporary measure that would save almost all of the festival businesses that are likely to fall by the wayside this year and many more over the years to come. We need this intervention now”.

The government did reduce VAT on ticket sales during the pandemic to 12.5%, but this came to an end in 2022. Since then, there have been repeated calls from the industry to instigate a new reduction in order to aid the festival and wider live sector’s recovery. To date, there has been no indication that the ruling Conservative Party has any desire to do so - it was again missing from the latest budget when announced by Chancellor Of The Exchequer Jeremy Hunt last week

As well as lobbying the Tories, industry reps are also turning their attention to the other political parties for support now that a General Election is looming. It’s expected that the Labour Party will be in power after that vote and that the Kier Starmer led party may be more inclined to throw festivals a lifeline. However, if the election does not happen until the autumn, as is currently expected, it may be too late for many events.

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