James Drury: Police and PRS – Paying The Bill

07 Apr 2011

They’re probably two of the most hotly-disputed parts of a festival’s costs: Police and PRS.

When PRS For Music announced in June last year that it was to review the tariff for live music events, it came at a time when the festival industry was facing financial pressure from shaky consumer spending confidence and the VAT rise pushing ticket prices higher, following year-on-year rising festival costs.

PRS argued that the rates hadn’t been reviewed since 1988, and that at 3% of gate receipts, its tariff was among the lowest in the world.

For larger events, it said, the face value ticket represented a smaller proportion of the overall income from the event (considering secondary ticketing and ancillary income streams), and that as a result, its members were receiving a lower proportion of the income compared to 20 years ago.

In addition, it said it was listening to festivals, who had been arguing that the existing structure penalised them. Festival organisers said that not only did their ticket price reflect higher infrastructure costs and (often) the provision of camping facilities, but that as they offered non-musical entertainment such as comedy and theatre, it was unfair to levy the charge on the full ticket price.

As a result, PRS For Music proposed a concession for non-music content, and that events where a charge for accommodation or camping is included in the ticket price could deduct the cost of provision of accommodation/camping from their declared receipts.

However, argue promoters, with so many small events having sprung up in the last 20 years, major festivals such as V, Reading/Leeds and T in the Park can no longer be viewed as typical examples of the industry. They say any increase in rates would adversely affect budgets, and therefore smaller, emerging talent – not essential headliners.

As John Giddings of the Isle of Wight Festival put it: “It’s hard enough paying expenses already, but all this does is make our break even higher so it puts us more at risk.

“The bottom line is that it will inflate ticket prices and the punters are going to have to pay for it. Fewer punters will buy tickets as a result.”

Increasing ticket prices due to PRS fee increases just when the VAT rise and the anticipation of falling consumer spend were biting would do irreparable damage to the business, claimed festivals.

Bigger bills

The review came at a time when festivals were battling increasing bills from Police Forces.

The amount festivals are charged for policing services has infamously varied from Force to Force, with some events being charged nothing and others footing bills in many tens of thousands of pounds.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) first issued guidance on charging for Police services in 2005. This document was updated in 2010.

The document clarifies which type of event Forces should seek to recoup Policing costs, and sets out the hourly rate calculation which should be charged per officer.

In summary, it says Chief Constables should seek to recoup all costs from commercial music festivals, while community festivals are exempt.

The ACPO guidance calculates hourly charges per officer based on elements including salary, subsistence, National Insurance, pensions costs, overtime, overheads (including uniform, transport and insurance).

As a result, it calculates the cost for a PC at £54.84 per hour, Sergeants at £68.97, Inspectors at £68.33, Chief Inspectors at £72.03 and Superintendents at £90.27.

Although the transparency around charges is welcomed by the festival industry, the ACPO recommendation means festivals, irrespective of their size, are being charged the maximum overtime rate, plus administration fees.

One promoter told Music Week that if the £55 per hour figure is used as a basis for an annual salary then the “average copper” would earn £100,000. “That patently isn’t the case,” he says. “So it appears that Chief Constables are profiteering on events that many people think they should be policing in the course of their ordinary activities anyway.”


However, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary Denis O’Connor has warned some police forces will struggle to protect front-line policing while dealing with drastic cuts to their budgets after the government announced last year that police funding would be cut by 20 percent in real terms over the next four years.

ACPO has estimated that some 12,000 officers and 16,000 civilian staff would be lost as a result of budget cuts, about 12 percent of the police service.

What impact will the cuts have on festivals? And in what ways can both parties work more closely together? For example, with the amount of private security at festivals, is it possible that those companies could be used, as they are by the Home Office firms to run security at prisons, courts and airports?

James Drury, Festival Awards

These issues will be discussed at the City Sessions London, (15.04.11) when there will be an exclusive presentation of the findings of PRS For Music’s review of charges it levies on festivals. There will also be chance to further dialogue with Derek Smith, Director of Finance at West Midlands Police and ACPO lead on Charging for Police Services.  More…

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