Outlook: A few dome thoughts

THE SECRETARY of State for Trade and Industry, Peter Mandelson would like to make a statement about the British Airways/American Airlines alliance. But before that, he wishes to make a rather longer statement about his role in the Millennium Dome.

It has been suggested in some quarters that, as sole shareholder of the New Millennium Experience Company, Mr Mandelson might face conflicts of interest.

On the one hand, he has responsibility for determining mergers and competition policy. On the other he has responsibility for the construction, delivery and operation of the Millennium Experience at Greenwich. This entails working closely with private sector sponsors, or, to put it more crudely, tapping them for money.

It is not inconceivable that in his dual role Mr Mandelson will be required to rule on mergers involving companies who may have contributed to the dome financially. In point of fact, one such donor is BA, which has coughed up in the region of pounds 6m.

Mr Mandelson would like to make it crystal clear, however, that in carrying out his functions as SoS he will in no way be influenced by offers of support for the Dome. Insofar as the BA alliance is concerned, the Permanent Secretary has checked the legal position and cleared me to make the ruling.

Now, where were we? Ah yes, the BA/AA alliance. Mr Mandelson has received advice from the Director General of Fair Trading, that he should override the European Commission and allow the alliance to sell 267 take-off and landing slots at Heathrow and Gatwick. We understand they are worth in the region of pounds 500m.

We are now inviting views on the DG's advice. We know it's a tough one but what do you think Mr Mandelson should do?.

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