Alarm over Dome funds

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The Independent Online
LABOUR MPS last night demanded an emergency Commons statement by the Culture Secretary, Chris Smith, after a report by a public-spending watchdog warning that the taxpayer may be asked to bail out the pounds 758m Millennium Dome.

In a report to Parliament described as "dynamite" by one MP, Sir John Bourn, the Comptroller and Auditor-General, said the Dome may be facing a shortage of cash sponsors. Sir John said the auditors of the New Millennium Experience Company had highlighted its inherent instability. "For the Millennium Experience to be completed, it may ... be necessary for the commission or Government to identify ways of assisting the company on this matter."

But last night the Department of Culture said Mr Smith had assured MPs on Monday about the viability of the scheme. The Experience company also pointed out the report was completed in October, although it was slipped into the Commons library last month.

The report is seen as being out of date, and those leading the alarm were said to be among the main critics of the Dome project, which was the responsibility of Peter Mandelson until his resignation from the Cabinet.

The Commons motion expresses "grave concern" over the Dome project. Bob Marshall Andrews, the Labour MP behind the motion, said it could add another pounds 90m to the taxpayers' bill for the Dome.

Janet Anderson, Minister for Tourism, told MPs this week the New Millennium Experience Company continued to make "impressive progress" towards achieving its target of pounds 150m of sponsorship.

A total of pounds 20m of sponsorship had already been confirmed.