MPs attack quango's waste

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The Independent Online
Public money was wasted and local businesses saddled with huge losses because of a quango's "deplorable and irresponsible" celebrations of the 500th anniversary of Columbus's voyage to America, the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has conc luded. The Independent had revealed in 1993 that the Merseyside Development Corporation (MDC) incurred vast losses through mistakes and improper use of public funds.

The MDC cost the public sector and local businesses more than £1m"with little evidence of any beneficial effects", a PAC report to be published this week says.

"These funds would have been available for regeneration in Merseyside, were it not for the corporation's mismanagement of the events, which we condemn," the all-party report will say. The report focuses on 22 shortcomings in MDC management of the"Fanfarefor a New World" gala performance and other events marking the visit to the Mersey of the Tall Ships fleet in August 1992.

Using critical terms unprecedented in a PAC report, corporation conduct is described as "astonishing, inadequate, extraordinary, unacceptable and disturbing".

The criticisms do not identify individuals responsible, but the idea of staging an operatic concert on the waterfront was described at the time as the"brainchild" of Sir Desmond Pitcher, chairman of the MDC and North West Water.

The regatta lost £426,000; the concert cost the MDC £419,000; and Carroll Communications, appointed to stage the Fanfare, went into liquidation with debts of £376,000, the bulk to local small firms.

"The corporation did too little, too late" to plan the events, the PAC says.

Budgets were produced late, and income forecasts were"over-optimistic". The PACwas "disturbed to note the major overruns of £61,000 on the hospitality and publicity budgets for the regatta, and of a further £67,000 on . . . press and publicity work''.