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DAVID FROST: Well the Millennium Dome is still the subject of controversy and probably always will be, a controversy even though it's closed. The former Conservative Deputy Prime Minister and great enthusiast of the Dome, Michael Heseltine has criticised plans to dismantle some of the Dome's contents and there have been concern over reports of the size of bonuses staff are said to be getting and in general the controversy in various ways goes on and I'm joined right now by the man who knows exactly what's happening, David James, the troubleshooter appointed to look after the Dome in the last few months of its life, from August, September onwards and he's here this morning. David welcome.
DAVID JAMES: Good morning.
DAVID FROST: Now Michael Heseltine says he'd like things to go on and so on, but you're moving with speed and dispatch to wind things up, why couldn't it have gone on a bit longer?
DAVID JAMES: We had no alternative but to start handing back the equipment that we did not own because we were contractually only able to use it up until the 31st of December. A great deal of that equipment had to go back or we'd have had penalty costs of between five and ten million pounds if we had not started the process and given back most of that equipment during the course of January and ten million pounds is simply not a sum that I had available.
DAVID FROST: Not a sum you had available and so that's the key reason for moving as quickly as you did, expeditiously with, was the cash, the simple problem which you've had before of cash?
DAVID JAMES: There were very good practical reasons as well, I know a number of people have got an interest in possibly running the Dome for the future as a visitor attraction but you would not, I think, be running the same visitor attraction. Now obviously the decommissioning programme that we're doing at the moment is going out of its way to ensure that we preserve the value of anything which anybody might want for the future but a great deal of the stuff that we have to give back simply has to go. For example we're taking out the central stage at the moment as the only means by which we can get the cranes in in order to remove the very expensive lighting in the roof which we don't own. But when we've given that lighting back the stage is going to be preserved in one of the outbuildings, so it's still there for anybody who wants it for the future.
DAVID FROST: Well when you took over in September, you've been advising in all of this and so on, were there any more really, nearly financial crises after that in the last few months?
DAVID JAMES: On the day that I took over, the 5th of September, the Millennium Commission extended its final grant of £47 million and that was the last sum of money I was going to have available to bring about a solvent liquidation and I have to say that by the time I'd got to the end of October I was getting very worried, I was down to less than about a million pounds of unallocated cash on my projections. Now since then we've made a tremendous recovery and we've got back to the point where I've got about £10 million of spare in my reserves at the moment and I'm sure that this is building up to be enough to get me through to a solvent liquidation when all debts are paid. But I simply couldn't have run the risk of losing the erosion of that point during this first few weeks of the year.
DAVID FROST: How many people are there working, apart from the old worker's play time joke about how many people working, about half of them, but how many people are there working at the Dome now - this week?
DAVID JAMES: I have a, I have a management team of 22 supported by staff of 75 and we have some 300 staff on site working on various aspects of decommissioning and the repairs and giving back the equipment that we don't own.
DAVID FROST: So you're, you're spending how much a week at the moment?
DAVID JAMES: I think the, I couldn't tell you what the actual cost is, I'm told the total cost that I shall spend over the next three months in the decommissioning is just around seven and a half million pounds.
DAVID FROST: What, what next in terms, obviously it's not clear, Legacy are the preferred bidder at the moment and they want to do the hi-tech park as it were there, other people in the background and so on, PY has said he'd be interested in putting together a consortium, what, what next do you see happening?
DAVID JAMES: Well I think the, the next stage of the process has got to be that the competition board which is being directed by the government proceeds to assess the present dialogue and the offer and hopefully that will come through to a positive end because then we can go ahead and prepare the rest of the Dome for the hand-over to Legacy in the event that that transaction goes ahead as I certainly hope it will and if any alternative plan has to be introduced instead then we will clearly move on and prepare it for whatever finality is to be.
DAVID FROST: Well Legacy were the second preferred bidder as it were, and therefore there are no other preferred bidders, if that fell through the process would start all over again, you might have to look after the Dome for many months in that circumstance.
DAVID JAMES: What we would do at that point is I think we would probably complete the initial process of giving back all the equipment that we haven't owned and we would then probably go through and sell off just those pieces of non-significant equipment which are not needed either as a visitor attraction or as a sporting arena or performing arena and that would take place around the end of February but the Dome would then be preserved with maximum flexibility to suit anybody's future needs to develop a, either a visitor attraction or alternatively to work it up into some business park format or whatever alternative use was to be decided on.
DAVID FROST: And obviously given that it hasn't been, what one can call highly profitable over the year, people are very interested in the bonuses which I guess are contractual in many cases, how much will be paid out by way of bonuses to key members of staff?
DAVID JAMES: I would say something less than a pound.
DAVID FROST: Less than a pound, not £200,000 for Jenni Page and £200,000 for PY?
DAVID JAMES: It's the staff you're talking about not the directors, you're talking of the, the actual staff bonuses which have been talked about. Nobody had staff bonuses, they had retention clauses where a portion of their wages had been retained against their continuing with us until the date of the 31st of December which was very significant. Now that's been confused as bonus payment and that ran to a figure of about £4 million, that was all paid over last week and that is the end of that story. The bonuses that I think you're talking about are the issues relating to the four or five former executive directors, no current executive directors of the company, with the exception of PY Gerbeau. Now when the other four or five directors left back in the earlier part of 1999 there was an arrangement whereby any bonuses would be considered but solely at the discretion of the board when the Dome had completed trading, so that is a decision which is going to be first addressed by the remuneration committee and subsequently by the board in the course of January. PY himself had a, a package which was effectively £150,000 a year salary and a maximum of £50,000 bonus, again at the discretion of the board and subject to certain benchmarking which he had to achieve and again those will be considered by the remuneration committee and the board this month.
DAVID FROST: So that those figures are by no means certain yet, they're about, the bonuses, the figures we hear and that I quoted, they will be decided - at the moment nobody's definitely getting one of those bonuses¿directors or ex-directors?
DAVID JAMES: No all those decisions are in the future.
DAVID FROST: But the, but you've given him a Rolex so far, PY?
DAVID JAMES: That was a personal gift from me to PY, not from the company.
DAVID FROST: Not from the company?
DAVID JAMES: No, it was a personal gift because PY's been a great ally, a great supporter and it's been one of those happy associations that usually I go into a place and the first thing I have to do is clear out the team that's running it because they can't run it. I had the great good benefit here of finding that I'd got PY able to lead through the running of the Dome day-by-day which left me to get on with the battle to make sure that we get to that solvent liquidation and to run the corporate issues.
DAVID FROST: And now it's off to be chairman of Railtrack?
DAVID JAMES: Oh don't believe, don't believe anything you read in the newspapers, I mean I'm just in the business of sorting out problems, I don't know why people are writing it up as Railtrack, why not Equitable, those are the big problems that are around at the present moment and don't forget that the, it's the board of Railtrack that has to make a decision, nobody else can make a decision for them and Railtrack's board, and I have got no dialogue with each other whatever.
DAVID FROST: But you wouldn't say no?
DAVID JAMES: I'm in the business David, of sorting out problems, I spend my life sorting out crises, I like them big, I like them national, I don't mind what I do next so long as it's a nice big juicy problem.
DAVID FROST: Thank you very much for being with us this morning.
DAVID JAMES: Pleasure.
DAVID FROST: David James there, the story, the facts about what happens next on the Dome and the figures.
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