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Thursday, 9 November, 2000, 19:17 GMT
Falconer refuses to go
Cabinet Office Minister Lord Falconer has ignored growing calls for his resignation, following a highly critical report into the running of the Millennium Dome.

In an interview with the BBC, Lord Falconer said he planned to stay with the project until the end of the year.

A damning report, by the National Audit Office released on Wednesday, said the Greenwich attraction was risky, mismanaged and financially weak before it even opened.

It also said the greatly overestimated visitor number targets for the Dome were "ambitious and inherently risky" and criticised the management for having no contingency plan if the numbers were not met.

Lord Falconer admitted that it had been "a very big mistake" to accept the 12 million visitor target.


Falconer must now do the decent thing and resign

Peter Ainsworth

But he added: "I don't think the right thing to do at this stage is to resign.

"The right thing to do is to stay with the project and make sure there is a solvent conclusion to the end of the year and a proper future for the Dome."

Lord Falconer had earlier admitted that it might have been a mistake to build the Dome in the first place.

Public inquiry

Conservative leader William Hague led calls for Lord Falconer's resignation following the publication of the National Audit Office (NAO) report.

The Tory leader also called for a public inquiry into the running of the Greenwich attraction.

Shadow culture secretary Peter Ainsworth also repeated his call for the minister to go, saying the report "shows beyond any doubt that Lord Falconer's position is untenable".

Lord Falconer
Lord Falconer - under pressure
He added that the report pointed the finger squarely at Lord Falconer: "It clearly states that he was responsible for monitoring the Dome's cost, content, national impact, legacy and effective management and that on all counts he has failed.

"The report also raises questions over the truthfulness of statements made about the Dome's solvency by Lord Falconer in the House of Lords.

"Falconer must now do the decent thing and resign."

Mr Ainsworth was joined by Liberal Democrat Dome spokesman Norman Baker, who said: "Lord Falconer is in the driving seat the moment and therefore he should resign."


An impossible structure was created by the Tories and Labour did nothing to change it

Norman Baker
But Lord Falconer said he regretted that extra money had to be poured into the Dome.

And added: "But as the National Audit Office report makes clear it involved either deciding to give more money or incurring extra expense because of the claims that would be made."

He denied there was a question mark over his management of the project.

"This is a question mark placed on me by the Conservative party.

"The National Audit Office say that the main problem is that visitor numbers were not reached," he said.

Serious indictment

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

He said one of the most serious issues that his committee would be looking at was over the issue of whether "the Dome was insolvent from February".

Mr Davis said he aimed to determine whether money was misused.

He asked: "Why it wasn't until late September that Parliament was told the company wasn't solvent despite the fact that the directors of the company sought an indemnity from the government against the legal consequences of trading while insolvent?

"The implications for Parliament are that money put into that company if it was insolvent might not be a proper use of the money."

Mr Davis refused to be drawn on whether Lord Falconer should resign, saying it was a matter for the prime minister.

Mistakes

Culture Secretary Chris Smith said he welcomed the NAO report "and the lessons it highlights for the future".

"The Millennium Experience was a unique project. The report highlights the key issues that affected the Dome's performance. It also recognises its achievements."

Mr Smith stressed that the government was awaiting the views of the public accounts committee.

But the prime minister's official spokesman apologised for the waste of money.

He said: "We are sorry that people do feel very, very strongly that this has cost an awful lot of money."

He also stressed the "other side of the balance sheet" insisting that thousands of jobs had been created in the Greenwich area.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Cabinet Office minister Lord Falconer
"I don't think the appropriate course is to resign"
The BBC's Nick Higham
"It was a quiet day at the dome. The drama lay elsewhere"

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