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oliver dowden

Dowden gives outdoor performances the green light, but business events miss out again

The culture secretary Oliver Dowden has given the green light for outdoor performances to take place from 11 July, but the business events industry must wait longer for any certainty.

Addressing the nation from Downing Street, 9 July, minister Dowden said that as of this weekend, musicians and artists can perform live outside to an outdoor, socially distanced audience.

The minister said: “We won’t see crowds flooding into venues, but from 11 July theatres, opera houses, dance venues and music venues can put on performances for socially distanced audiences.”

Minister Dowden did however hint that events will require electronic ticketing, which he noted will help to track and trace visitors, something that the business events industry has been championing during the Covid-19 crisis, and through pre-registration is a standard component of any conference or exhibition already.

“We are taking various measures to make these places safe before they reopen,” he said. Adding that “venue capacity will be reduced, and organisations will be encouraged to move to electronic ticketing to help test and trace.”

The minister also said that the Government, together with Public Health England, would be piloting a number of indoor events, such as the London Symphony Orchestra at St Luke’s and Butlin’s [holiday park]. “We will work out how we can confidentially usher socially distanced audiences indoors as soon as possible,” he said.

“At the same time, we are investigating the specific scientific risks of transmission for things such as singing,” added Dowden.

The final nugget of hope offered by the minister suggested added protection would be in place for venues facing financial hardship. While it was not clear if these measures are aimed solely at cultural venues, the fragmented nature of the events industry would likely mean most venues could be protected.

Minister Dowden said: “We are also working to protect theatres and venues from demolition and change of use. We want to open all of our venues when it is safe to do so, and today’s announcement brings us a further step closer to that reality.”

"Dismayed"

In response, the Meetings Industry Association said it was "dismayed" that there continues to be no acknowledgement of the events sector, which provides £70bn to the economy and 700,000 highly skilled jobs..  

The association's chief executive, Jane Longhurst, said: "The sector’s patience is being seriously challenged, with yet again no mention of a sector that underpins the economy in so many cities.   

"Through our Road to Reopening and Operating Safely guidance, which is signposted in the Government’s own Visitor Economy Guidance, we have comprehensively demonstrated the control measures that can be put in place to safely manage as well as track and trace delegates.  

"Unlike many large-scale public live events, business meetings and business events are well organised and properly resourced activities that government should be supporting as a catalyst for recovery.  

Longhurst added that there are "many lessons" that the Government can learn from initially reinstating business meetings that can then provide insight and protocols for other larger live activities such as major sporting, leisure or cultural events. 

"The devastating impact will be widespread. There will be thousands of redundancies across the whole of our sector and the thousands of organisations reliant on the business meetings and events industry, raising questions over the Government’s priorities," added Longhurst.  

Michael Begley, managing director of venuedirectory.com, commented on the disjointed situation, noting that hotels are now allowed to reopen all their assets with the exception of their event spaces for conferences and meetings, a key revenue driver. Begley said: “The vast array of hotels and resorts on our 20,000 venue database will soon be able to open every area and facility, from bars to spas, golf to pools, except their conference and meeting rooms.

“The facilities are all ready, compliant with safe meeting guidelines. All the owners need is a date for reopening.

“Many people forecast that business meeting and events may be the last industry to reopen and recover, and it looks as if they were right.”

Picture by Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street.