Dome bosses slammed for 'weak management'

Growing pressure on Falconer to resign as report savages dome
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'Dome Secretary' Lord Falconer has vowed not to resign despite a highly critical report into the running of the troubled attraction from the National Audit Office.

'Dome Secretary' Lord Falconer has vowed not to resign despite a highly critical report into the running of the troubled attraction from the National Audit Office.

However the Cabinet Office minister has issued a statement admitting mistakes had been made. He also made it clear that he would not bow to Conservatives calls for him to resign.

The report states that the Millennium Dome was badly managed, with "ambitious and inherently risky" visitor number targets and "weak" financial management. The NAO said it was "also clear that the task of managing the project had been complicated by the complex organisational arrangements put in place from the outset, and by the failure to put in sufficiently robust financial management".

There had been "weaknesses in financial management and control" at the New Millennium Experience Company which runs the Dome, it went on to say. NMEC had been unable "to track and quantify fully the contractual commitments it has entered into" and the company had "experienced difficulty in establishing the full extent of its liabilities through to solvent liquidation and handover to a new owner".

Lord Falconer said in a statement the NAO report gave a "detailed and accurate account" and admitted mistakes had been made but claimed the Dome was Britain's premier paid-for attraction and said the report had found opening on time had been a "major achievement".

Shadow Culture Secretary Peter Ainsworth has repeated his calls for Lord Falconer to resign, saying: "Clearly the Public Accounts Committee will wish to study this report carefully and will draw its own conclusions. However, the report shows beyond any doubt that Lord Falconer's position is untenable.

"It clearly states that he was responsible for monitoring the Dome's cost, content, national impact, legacy and effective management and that on all counts he has failed. The report also raises questions over the truthfulness of statements made about the Dome's solvency by Lord Falconer in the House of Lords.

"Falconer must now do the decent thing and resign."

The report included a letter from Culture Secretary Chris Smith to Lord Falconer voicing concerns over the way the attraction was being managed. Mr Smith has had to release an extra £179 million of National Lottery funds to cope with cash-flow problems.

Writing in February this year following the ousting of NMEC chief executive, Jennie Page, he appears to accuses the NMEC board of a failure of leadership.

"This is disquieting on issues relating to commercial and operational strategy and media handling, and extremely serious when it comes to solvency and financial management," Mr Smith wrote. "Either the board did not see, or it chose to discount the warning signs of the cash-flow difficulties."

The Culture Secretary also raised reservations about the double session opening days that were introduced at one point - with visitors coming in the evenings.

He said the Commission remained "absolutely committed" to the Dome, but had asked to see evidence of NMEC's main strategies, action plans and budgets for the period ahead before releasing any further grants.

Mr Smith said the Dome report highlighted lessons for the future and sought to answer some criticisms made by the National Audit Office.

A better management structure might have improved the Dome's performance, he admitted, but time constraints made it impractical to put in place an alternative.

The 12 million visitor estimate was too high but was "not unrealistic" before the attraction opened, Mr Smith said.

Ministers had learned from the experience and other millennium projects, such as Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh and Cornwall's Eden Project, had exceeded their more modest targets.

The project was always going to be "risky", he said, but officials were already working to improve risk assessment, the Culture Secretary said.

Mr Smith also conceded that experts with experience of running major visitor attractions should have been brought in.

"I welcome the report by the National Audit Office into the Millennium Dome and the lessons it highlights for the future," Mr Smith said.

"The Millennium Experience was a unique project. The report highlights the key issues that affected the Dome's performance. It also recognises its achievements."

Mr Smith added: "The Government takes Public Accounts Committee hearings very seriously and await their views on the NAO report with interest."