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Wednesday, 1 May, 2002, 17:18 GMT 18:18 UK
Banning motorists 'doomed the Dome'
Inside the Millennium Dome
Many felt the Dome had too few selling points
Lack of car access to the Millennium Dome was a "big impediment" to the doomed attraction's success, according to the troubleshooter sent in to save it.

David James, former executive chairman of Dome operators the New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC), made the claim as he gave evidence to the Commons public accounts select committee which is considering the winding up of NMEC.


They were not really able to cope and they never ever caught up with that tremendous backlog

David James
Ex-NMEC chairman

There were also not enough staff charged with dealing with the Dome's contracts and accounts - and the small team responsible was close to nervous collapse.

Goverment officials also told the inquiry that the had cost taxpayers 275,000 a month to maintain since it was closed to the public in December 2000.

Unskilled staff

Mr James saw the lack of car access has a major obstacle to the attraction's success.

"I think that it has to be a major problem if you have a major installation like this and you cannot drive to it," he told the MPs.

The businessman said a lack of skilled staff meant they had been "unable to cope" with the sudden influx of activity that filled the Dome before it opened on 31 December, 1999.

He claimed the accounting of the project's finances should have been contracted out instead of being dealt with in-house.

"Quite hefty" director performance bonuses had to be paid because of the likelihood that refusal to do so would have resulted in a government body being sued.

David James, former executive chairman of the New Millennium Experience Company
David James: Had to pay bonuses because of litigation threat

"I think the over-riding view that I have is that the systems were fundamentally sound and had been well created," Mr James told the committee.

But he said "they had never been staffed with the requisite number of people and perhaps the depth and breadth of skills required to cope with the enormous sudden influx of activity" needed as the Dome neared completion in 1999.

"They really were overwhelmed."

A National Audit Office report found that 136m worth of invoices for goods supplied had to be processed within eight weeks between November and December 1999.

Outside help needed

Mr James explained: "They were not really able to cope and they never ever caught up with that tremendous backlog.

"That was the situation that was still very much unresolved when I arrived nine months later."

Mr James said he had to put together a team of 24 accountants and lawyers "who had to attack it root and branch", looking at every single contractual liability and credit obligation.

A project of the Dome's size had "two fundamental flaws", in that the team that built the attraction should have been separate from the team that ran it, he said.

It had been a "false economy" not to have contracted out the accounting control process, although to do so would have been initially more expensive.

Mr James said he had taken legal advice before deciding to pay greatly reduced bonuses to directors who left the company.

Surplus

"Had we said 'no', the likelihood was that a government body would have been sued by employees and according to the counsel opinion, they had a case."

Mr James said the Dome's former chief executive had been paid 41,000 instead of an expected 136,769.

He said he had also been forced to investigate potential abuse in the procurement system, relating to supplier issues and employees in the company, but not at director level.

But earlier, the committee was told that NMEC was now forecasting a grant surplus of 25m, from a 47m Millennium Commission grant, which had been widely condemned by MPs.

Sue Street, from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, said an extra 883,000 had been returned to the commission.

See also:

01 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Government's Dome handling attacked
18 Dec 01 | UK Politics
The Dome - first line to last rites
12 Nov 01 | UK
Dome running costs 'soar'
03 Nov 01 | UK
Duke drops Dome bid
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