Government taken to court over failure to publish data on mass events

West End legends back legal campaign demanding release of information

The Theatre Royal in Stratford in east London sits empty    Credit: Jamie Lumley/CC BY-SA 3.0

Figures from across the live music and theatre sector are have launched legal action in a bid to force the government to hand over data about its mass event pilots.

Two major figures from the world of musical theatre, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh, have joined industry body LIVE and others in formally requesting the results of Phase 1 of the Events Research Programme (ERP) are made public.

Despite revealing no Covid outbreaks have been traced back to the events, ministers have not published any information about the pilots so far. In recent days, more festivals have decided to cancel this summer due to the uncertainty over how and when the relevant restrictions will be eased, and a lack of transparency over the ERP, which is being run by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Responding to an urgent question on the publication of the data in the Commons this week, DCMS minister Nigel Huddleston told MPs: “Although we are not yet in a position to publish the full report, I can assure the House that post-event data closely monitored have not shown any evidence of the events causing outbreaks. If they had, we would have communicated that information urgently.”

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But the government is still facing criticism from industry figures involved in the legal challenge for not outlining the scientific basis for its decision to maintain restrictions on most events, while the live entertainment sector has “spent the last few months participating in, and paying for, full capacity pilot events as part of the ERP”.

In a statement LIVE said: “As well as declining to publish the ERP results, the government is yet to provide any form of insurance scheme for the sector or to make it clear what kind of ongoing mitigations may be required in the future – effectively making it impossible to plan for any live entertainment business. The short-term hit is stark. Industry research indicates that the potential four-week delay to reopening will lead to around 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.”

They are also critical of the third round of pilots in the ERP, announced in the wake of the Johnson’s decision to delay step 4, when all restrictions are due to end, to 19 July.

“It is clear that these pilots are little more than a way of allowing certain high-profile events to go ahead, primarily large-scale sporting events, while keeping the rest of the sector shut,” the claimants added.

LIVE has asked the court to consider their application at an urgent hearing, accusing the government of breaching the “duty of candour” when faced with a legal challenge and failing to say why the ERP data is being withheld.

Lloyd Webber has already been an outspoken critic of the government’s handling of the ERP, and last week rejected an offer for an exception to be made for his latest production, Cinderella, by including it in the programme. 

In a statement released on announcing his decision to join LIVE’s legal challenge, he emphasised the importance of the implications of continued restrictions across the entire industry. 

“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,” Lloyd Webber wrote. “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.”


Sam Trendall

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