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Festivals Toolkit: Organisation: Contracts

There are several legal issues that could affect you as an organisation in relation to contracts, form of business, liability and employment, for which you may need expert legal advice from time to time.

There are a number of contractual arrangements you may need to engage in, such as:

  • Agreements with suppliers, contractors and sub-contractors;
  • Staff and volunteer agreements;
  • Agreements with performers and artists; and
  • Hire agreements, such as venues or office premises.

When you enter into contracts it is important that the contracts are examined carefully to see what (if any) additional responsibilities, legal or otherwise are binding your festival by signing a contract. For example, a contract may state that it is the responsibility of the festival to have handling equipment on site at the time of delivery of seating, otherwise the suppliers will not be responsible for any delays that may arise. The AOIFE Festival Toolkit provides a good example.

The importance of contracts as an essential part of every organisation's management should not be underestimated. Whilst a formal contract is not always essential, it is worth confirming arrangements in writing. Sometimes an exchange of emails is all that will be necessary but make sure that you include all the essential information that form the basis for a contract, so that all parties understand what is being offered and accepted.

Agreements with Suppliers and Contractors
It is best practice to get quotations from various suppliers prior to purchase to ensure value for money and allow comparison. Ideally, get three quotations at least for items that cost more than £1,000, and take up references and talk to others to determine a contractor’s competence.

Check that all subcontractors and self-employed contractors have the relevant insurance and risk assessment policies. Get copies of these policies and of signed contracts and make sure that they comply with legal requirements and conditions.

If you contract or employ people working on a self-employed basis you should also ensure that they have appropriate Professional Indemnity (PI) policy in place. PI insurance will generally protect them and you against any liability you may have to third parties as a result of mistakes they may make in the course of their business as a professional. Employing people with PI insurance will give you a peace of mind and it is often an indicator that they are operating as a professional business.

Ensure that you have written agreements which include the following:

  • the contractor's responsibilities;
  • the objectives, scope of the work and key deliverables (goals);
  • resources you must provide if the contractor needs access to your equipment and/or staff;
  • fees and a payment schedule - you may wish to consider penalty or incentive schemes for under-performance or over-performance;
  • a procedure for resolving disputes, e.g. review or termination; and
  • confidentiality agreements.

The above information is adapted from Business Link website.

A standard contract will often have the following structure:
N.B. Items in bold are the typical essential or minimum points required in the most simple and basic contracts.

  1. heading/title
  2. description/purpose/the service (basically the product/service description)
  3. parties (supplier and client - including addresses)
  4. date
  5. geographical coverage
  6. definitions - essential glossary of frequently occurring items in the document
  7. term - period of agreement
  8. pricing (refer if appropriate to attached schedule)
  9. pricing adjustment (for example annual increases linked to suitable index)
  10. responsibilities of provider - include or append details of services and SLAs (service level agreements)
  11. responsibilities of client
  12. payment terms
  13. confidentiality
  14. dispute and arbitration process
  15. termination and force majeure
  16. renegotiation/renewal
  17. prevailing laws
  18. signatures and witnesses

This format can be used in a variety of contexts by small arts organisations for instance in:

  • contracting with an artist for a performance or a workshop, or for providing work for an exhibition;
  • contracting for the hire of a venue; or
  • contracting with a PA company for hire of equipment.

Contracts should only be signed at full Committee/Team meetings and the details carefully recorded in the minutes.

It is also advisable to keep copies of the contracts/agreements in a safe place and to include information in any Festival/Event Manual that you produce so that there are no misunderstandings on the day of the event, as sometimes the person who originated the agreement may not be present when payment for services needs to be rendered.

Working with freelance contractors
The Professional Contractors Group is a membership organisation which works with Government and industry to protect and promote freelancing and freelancers. One of the resources available from its website is a set of contracts that are available for download from its Draft contracts section.

Staff and Volunteer Agreements
See sections on ‘ Managing Staff’ and ‘ Working with Volunteers’

Also visit the Business Link website for guidance on employing different types of workers.

Volunteering England has published a comprehensive guide to Volunteers and the Law, which is available as a free download.

Performers and Artist's Agreements
When you approach artists/performers to book them ensure that you confirm all arrangements in writing, especially the following:

  • Date and time;

  • Exact location of the event (send a map if necessary);

  • Any special requests, (e.g. for equipment); and

  • Provide a contact telephone number and a contact person in case of any problems

Also ensure that you put together a formal contract and confirm any necessary changes to contracts/arrangements in writing or via email, as well as inform the rest of the team.

It is essential that the contract includes a Cancellation Policy and Payment Details.

Many contracts state the venue/artist may cancel without cost before 14 days of the booking, 50% payment required if the cancellation is within 14 days and 100% of the booking fee if you are cancelled within 7 days of the booking.

For further information, see these websites:

Committee Legal Liability
See section on ‘ Constitutions and legal structure’ for further information.

The concept of liability is one that every festival organiser needs to understand. For a start, when you are setting up and choosing the most appropriate form of business, you need to consider the liability implications.

Issues of liability are a particular responsibility of those who run the festival, the management committee, trustees or board of directors. VAN has published several briefing notes that clarify this role:

VAN Briefing note 69 (pdf format), Charity Trustees – what do they do? Part I, An overview
VAN Briefing note 70 (pdf format), Charity Trustees – what do they do? Part II, Managerial, legal and financial roles and responsibilities

Information on this section has been gathered from the following websites, so visit them for further information:

Timeline for Events
Tourism North East

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