Hope for summer events – but upset over new support scheme

EVENT businesses and organisers say they are still hopeful that some events will be able to go ahead this summer, as appeals are made for more financial help and guidance from the government to support the sector.

Tony and Helen Sargeant of Jersey Kitchen (30019211)
Tony and Helen Sargeant of Jersey Kitchen (30019211)

The Battle of Flowers is one of the events which it is hoped could go ahead this summer. Those behind the festival said they were ‘cautiously optimistic’ that the annual parade could return this year in some format, even if it is not the Battle many Islanders may be used to.

The government recently invited applications to its new Visitor Attraction and Events Support Scheme, introduced to help the sector during the pandemic. However, some business owners said they felt the criteria left out parts of the industry, while others say the scheme – which covers up to 80% of fixed business costs incurred between October 2020 and April 2021 – has come too late.

The appeals for additional government support come as one nightclub owner says he has been forced to launch a crowdfunding campaign in an effort to keep the business afloat. Full story below.

Meanwhile, Tony Sargeant, co-owner of outdoor and events catering company Jersey Kitchen, said he felt ‘worthless and worth less’ as he did not qualify for support under the government scheme because his turnover was below the £300,000 required.

‘I feel worthless because I am not being given acknowledgement or support for my business by the government and I feel worth less as other industries and businesses such as restaurants are being given more support than us,’ he said.

Mr Sargeant said that he was having to reinvent his business each week to keep going. He added: ‘We need to get everyone vaccinated as quickly as possible so we can try to have a summer season this year, otherwise no one in the industry is going to survive. Without any events this summer, the industry will totally collapse.’

Mr Sargeant said that businesses had been asked to submit a survey of their earnings so the government could consider altering the scheme if needed.

‘At the minute, the scheme is for the few and not the many. Any further support is welcomed but it is a little too late to be honest,’ he said.

Simon Gasston, managing director of Delta Events, said that clear guidance about when the industry could expect to resume business was needed now if there was to be a chance of running summer events.

Simon Gasston of Delta Events. Picture: ROB CURRIE. (30019233)

‘Events take up to three months to plan, book and sort. Even if the guidance comes in April or May, we won’t have time to salvage the summer. We need notice so we can plan ahead,’ he said.

Mr Gasston said the industry had been the first to close and had been unable to operate in any meaningful way during the pandemic.

He added: ‘We will be the last to open and this new support scheme, which we were promised in September, has left a sour taste in the mouths of key stakeholders as no one in the industry qualifies.’

However, Mr Gasston said he hoped events could still take place this summer.

‘I am trying to be positive and, if we can get vaccinated in time and the government gives us the guidance in time, then hopefully we can hold events this summer.’

James Robertson, owner of The Event Shop, said his business did not qualify for support as he was not registered for GST purposes. He said the government scheme needed to be more accommodating, otherwise lots of businesses would ‘fall through the net’.

‘It is really frustrating as this support was meant to come in September. It has now come in January and we still don’t qualify for it. I really hope it will be reviewed,’ he said.

Mr Robertson said that his business had lost 95% of its revenue since March 2020 and that the government payroll scheme had kept him ticking over.

He added: ‘I am grateful for all the support I have had but the payroll scheme does not touch the sides in terms of helping with cost.

‘If we do not have a summer season, it is going to feel like four winters worth of business in a row which will be devastating.’

Organisers of one of the Island’s biggest events, the Battle of Flowers, said they were also awaiting guidance and permission to stage the parade from the government and the Bailiff.

The 2020 Battle was cancelled due to Covid-19 but event director Jackie Donald said she was ‘cautiously optimistic’ that Battle would return this year.

‘We have to put our flower order in by the end of March and so, in an ideal world, we would have a response from the government before then,’ she said.

‘We have the ability to adapt and scale down the event if needs be. I think we are always going to have to be flexible during such uncertain times but hopefully we can still put on a show, even if it is in a slightly different format.’

Commenting on the support scheme, Economic Development Minister Lyndon Farnham admitted the support was aimed at larger businesses and was not intended to substitute lost earnings or underwrite operating costs through the winter.

‘The scheme is initially aimed at the larger visitor attractions and events companies who have had to carry much higher fixed costs during the pandemic than smaller businesses,’ he said, adding that the scheme would be kept under constant review to take into account the prevailing pandemic circumstances.

He added: ‘We will monitor the progress of this scheme closely to assess the benefit to the sector as well as the possibility of allowing smaller businesses to benefit from the scheme in the future.’

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