£339,000 for firm to promote empty Dome

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Hundreds of thousands of pounds of National Lottery money has been spent promoting the empty Millennium Dome.

Cardew and Co, a leading City public relations firm, has been paid at least £339,000 to "provide external press support" even though the attraction, in Greenwich, south-east London, has been closed for almost a year.

The total publicity bill will be higher still because the New Millennium Experience Company, which runs the Dome, continues to pay for its own press office.

Members of Parliament expressed astonishment yesterday when they heard about the amount of money still being spent on the Dome, and they questioned why it was continuing to employ spin doctors after it had shut down. Nick Harvey, the Liberal Democrat Culture spokesman, asked whether the fees paid to Cardew represented a proper use of public funds.

"This is a phenomenal sum of money," he said. "You could hire several Jo Moores if you were in the market for them. The cost of the Dome has spiralled out of control."

However, Kim Howells, a Culture minister, defended the payout, saying that "Cardew and Co are paid on an hourly rate, per job, when required".

Cardew and Co, a company that usually represents blue-chip City firms, was brought in by David James, the City executive who was appointed to take charge of the Dome's winding-up operation. The PR outfit recently reduced its charges because the New Millennium Experience Company was in the process of going into liquidation.

Anthony Cardew, Cardew's chairman, said: "We work for them [the Dome] on an occasional basis. The New Millennium Experience Company has an information officer. We are more of a resource to be called upon."

Emptying the Dome cost an estimated £55m. By the end of the year, the Government will have spent about £1.7m on the continuing search for a buyer; and it is expected that several million more will have gone on legal fees.

The New Millennium Experience Company is likely to go into solvent liquidation next month when Cardew's contract ceases. The NMEC press officer was not available for comment yesterday.

The bill for keeping the Millennium Dome closed is now £1.8m a month.