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Thursday, 9 November, 2000, 12:57 GMT
'Ill-fated' Dome condemned
Millennium Dome
The Millennium Dome was risky, mismanaged and financially weak before it opened, a damning report into the troubled London attraction says.

The report, by the National Audit Office, says the attraction's bosses were not in control of how much they were spending.

It says the task of managing the project was complicated by the complex organisational arrangements put in place from the outset, and by the failure to put in "sufficiently robust financial management".

But despite the criticisms it does praise the Dome for opening on time.

Bailed out

The report says the greatly overestimated visitor number targets were "ambitious and inherently risky" and criticises the management for having no contingency plan if the numbers were not met.

It also says the New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC), which runs the Dome, "lacked senior staff with experience of running a large visitor attraction" in the attraction's early stages.

As a result there were weaknesses in financial management and control and it had been unable "to track and quantify fully the contractual commitments it has entered into".

Peter Mandelson
Peter Mandelson: The original Dome minister
This was illustrated by the fact that "unexpected liabilities totalling more than 5m, largely in respect of work undertaken to fit out the Dome, came to light between March and July 2000".

Chairman of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, David Davis, said the report was "a serious indictment of those involved with this ill-fated project".

And shadow culture secretary Peter Ainsworth repeated his call for Lord Falconer to "do the decent thing" and resign.

But a spokesman for the New Millennium Experience Company welcomed the report as a comprehensive account of the circumstances surrounding the development of the Dome.

'Mistakes were made'

"The report makes clear that the need for additional funding arose principally as the result of a significant shortfall in visitor numbers as compared with the original forecast," he said.

Lord Falconer, minister with responsibility for the Dome, admitted mistakes were made but said there had also been successes.

"The government recognises that mistakes have been made during the Millennium Experience project and these have been highlighted in the NAO's report," he said.

"However, we should not lose sight of what has been achieved.

'Major achievement'

"The Dome is the number one pay-to-visit attraction in the UK, with over 5.4m visits so far - with visitor satisfaction ratings among the industry's highest.

"As the NAO report says opening the Dome on time was a major achievement."

But the report is expected to intensify calls for his resignation.

The troubled attraction in Greenwich, south east London, has so far cost 628m of lottery money - 229m more than originally forecast.

The report was first triggered last May when the Millennium Commission approved an extra 29m of lottery money to bail out the Dome, followed by a further 49m in September.

The report highlights the fact that by the start of this year the Dome had used up virtually all its 88m contingency fund to make up for cost overruns on its contents.

'Technically insolvent'

In February the original chief executive, Jennie Page, was sacked and replaced by Pierre-Yves Gerbeau, formerly an operations manager at Disneyland Paris.

In May, the company chairman, Robert Ayling was fired at the insistence of the Millennium Commission.

Mr Ayling wrote a personal letter of apology for the Dome's failings in London's Evening Standard newspaper on Thursday.

His letter said: "Those of us responsible for the Dome owe everyone else an apology for not having achieved the aspiration we all had of attracting 12 million visitors.

Lord Falconer
Falconer: Under pressure
"While there is much about the Dome of which I am and will remain proud, an apology is due and I personally offer one unreservedly."

A report commissioned in August by the current executive chairman of NMEC, David James, has been drawn upon as further damning evidence.

The report by the accountants PriceWaterhouseCoopers concluded that the Dome was technically insolvent in July.

Uncertainty about the Dome's financial dealings was one reason cited by the company Dome Europe, when it pulled out of negotiations in September to buy the attraction for 105m.

The government is currently in talks with another bidder, Legacy, which wants to turn the Dome into a hi-tech business park.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Nick Higham
"It was a quiet day at the Dome today but a noisy one in Westminster"
Minister for the Dome, Lord Falconer
"It is a project which did not meet its targets"
Martin Sinclair, National Audit Office
"The targets were highly ambitious and inherently risky"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
Is Lord Falconer to blame for the Dome fiasco? E-mail your comments nowMillennium Dome
Who should take responsibility?

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09 Nov 00 | UK Politics
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13 Sep 00 | UK
27 Sep 00 | UK Politics
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