Dome report damns ministers and managers for waste and ineptitude

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The Independent Online

Senior ministers and executives at the Millennium Dome were accused yesterday of embarking on an "inherently risky" project, squandering money and financial mismanagement in a damning report into the project.

Senior ministers and executives at the Millennium Dome were accused yesterday of embarking on an "inherently risky" project, squandering money and financial mismanagement in a damning report into the project.

The Tories said the National Audit Office report had evidence suggesting Lord Falcon- er of Thoroton, the minister for the Dome, misled Parliament.

The NAO report says several days before the minister told peers in July the New Millennium Experience Company was trading solvently, the Dome's chairman, David Quarmby, had written to him advising him the Dome could run out of money in two weeks and would need a further £45m.

These allegations, described last night as a "smoking gun", are expected to be raised in a crucial Public Accounts Committee hearing into the report next week.

Peter Ainsworth, the Tory culture spokesman, said he would challenge Baroness Jay of Paddington, the leader of the Lords, to seek Lord Falconer's resignation because of the discrepancy. "Either he is a fool or a knave," he said. "Either he misled Parliament or he was uniquely ignorant. Either way his position is untenable"

The NAO report accused ministers, the Millennium Commission and the Dome's operating company of setting a "highly ambitious" visitor target of 12 million, having "weak" management and allowing its costs to run out of control.

William Hague, the Conservative leader, is demanding the resignation of Lord Falconer and an apology from Tony Blair.

Lord Falconer said he had "regrets" about the Dome's crises, but added: "The right thing to do is not just to throw up one's hands and give up, it is to continue to work and try to ensure there is a solvent conclusion and a sensible future for the Dome and the Greenwich Peninsula."

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