Battle for power led to sacking: Millennium fund chief executive dismissed before taking up post was victim of a clash of personalities. Ian MacKinnon reports

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AS SOMEONE who has transformed the fortunes of the Save the Children Fund, boosting its income sevenfold and earning the admiration of the Princess Royal and Baroness Chalker in the process, it was clearly a shock for Nicholas Hinton to be sacked even before he started as Millennium Commission chief executive.

But the force of personality that had won him plaudits elsewhere also sowed the seeds of his downfall in the few weeks after he had been approached by commission members in July about the job.

Clearly, the pounds 76,000-a-year role was never going to be easy. Just administering, without embarrassments and cock-ups, the distribution of the pounds 1.6bn it is estimated the commission will receive - as its one-fifth share from the National Lottery between now and the end of the century - would be demanding.

But the nine commissioners seemed at a loss to explain the type of projects that would be deserving and appropriate to mark the millennium.

They were not helped greatly by Peter Brooke, the former national heritage minister, who laid out only vague guidelines. Funding would be given to proposals that were 'exceptionally distinctive projects that are 'of the millennium'.'

Even John Major, setting out his vision, shed little more light. 'Let all our imaginations run free,' he urged. 'I hope that we can come up with some unusual and original projects.'

The commissioners - who have have been touring the country talking to interested groups since February in an effort to narrow the criteria - still seemed in a quandry last month about appropriate projects for the cash. It led some to jump to the conclusion that their rift with Mr Hinton was over how to spend the money.

But ultimately all sides agreed that Mr Hinton's sacking was simply a clash over who should hold the reigns of power. The commission, whose report outlining the conclusions of its consultations will be revealed at the launch of the National Lottery next month, believes it has a statutory duty to maintain hands-on control.

Equally Mr Hinton, whose successful 10-year tenure at the Save the Children Fund was preceded by spells at Nacro and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, felt he had been appointed to take a strong role.

Tensions between the two power bases surfaced quickly as Mr Hinton, sitting in on commission meetings, prepared to don the chief executive's mantle.

Last Monday Mr Dorrell called Mr Hinton in and told him he would not be taking up the post. He is to get pounds 19,000 in lieu of his three-month notice period; he will also remain at Save the Children until his replacement is appointed.

(Photograph omitted)