QUESTION TIME: Dome `conflict of interests' denied

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The Independent Online
PETER MANDELSON came under cross-party pressure to hand over his special responsibility for the Millennium Dome yesterday because of what was said to be a conflict of interests in his position as the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in securing sponsorship of the project.

But Mr Mandelson insisted during Question Time that he was a "shareholder" of the Dome and not the head of the sponsorship team, pointing to his decision to refer BSkyB's bid to take over Manchester United to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission although the company was one of the sponsors of the Greenwich project.

But Crispin Blunt (C,Reigate) asked whether, in raising sponsorship, his "real and perceived power over these companies" as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry helped or hindered.

Norman Baker, (Lib Dem,Lewes) added: "Would it not be better if in fact responsibility [for the Dome] were passed to the Culture Secretary, Chris Smith?"

But Mr Mandelson insisted: "In carrying out my competition policy responsibilities, I can assure you I am in no way influenced by actual or potential offers being made by companies in support of the Dome."

During a later exchange, Mr Mandelson revealed that sponsorship for the Millennium Dome was likely to top the Government's pounds 150m target by pounds 10m. He said negotiations were taking place for major British companies to pledge a further pounds 60m on top of the pounds 100m already secured.

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