Falconer admits 'Dome too ambitious'

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Indy Politics

Lord Falconer has rejected calls to resign despite admitting the Dome is not a success.

Lord Falconer has rejected calls to resign despite admitting the Dome is not a success.

In a statement to the House of Lords, the project supremo also conceded the multi-million pound scheme was too ambitious.

He said: "The project was too ambitious given the time constraints of design and build and the one year only operation.

"The target of 12 million visitors was too ambitious and it was not appropriate for the public sector to manage a large visitor attraction."

But he added: "I concede my responsibility in relation to this is to see it through to the end."

And he insisted the Dome had been the "catalyst for the regeneration of the Greenwich peninsular - one of the commission's main objectives in their proposal for a millennium exhibition.

"The Dome is the number one pay-to-visit attraction in the UK with over 4.6 million visits so far, and number two in Europe, with visitor satisfaction ratings amongst the industry's highest.

"The Greenwich peninsular is now beginning to flourish, with a variety of new developments, community facilities and fresh ideas creating an exciting new urban quarter for London.

"The benefits of the Dome have been felt right across the UK. Over £300 million worth of construction contracts have been awarded to UK companies.

"13,000 employees have gained work in construction and operation of projects on the Greenwich peninsular and there has been an estimated £1 billion boost to the UK economy from foreign visitors in 2000. This will benefit the whole country.

"There is still a great deal of work to be done to secure the achievements of the Millennium Experience project and to secure a long-term future. I am determined to see this project through and secure those benefits."

Lord Falconer said despite the setbacks of recent months the workforce remained committed to the project and proud of their achievements.

Visitor numbers are encouraging with around 48,000 people visiting the Dome last weekend.

He said: "I can assure the House that we are aware of the lessons to be learned. However, we cannot put the clock back, and we are where we are.

"The project is three months from its conclusion and there are still vital tasks to be accomplished.

"Making sure that those 283,000 people, including school parties, who have already booked tickets for the Dome and the many thousands who we expect to visit in the run up to Christmas and the New Year get the day at the Dome that they have been looking forward to, making sure that all those employed directly and indirectly are able to see out their contracts; making sure that the contracts with the sponsors and exhibitors are honoured.

"In essence, to avoid insolvent liquidation which would be much more costly and damaging than trading until the end of the year; and securing a long term future for the Dome, which continues to maximise the regeneration benefit to Greenwich, the wider Thames Gateway and London as a whole.

"We recognise the disappointments of the summer and it is important that these events are put on the record."

Lord Falconer said insolvent liquidation of the company would have resulted in the immediate loss of up to 5,000 jobs, for people directly and indirectly employed at the Dome, and creditors would go unpaid, small businesses would suffer and tens of thousands of visitors and many schools with pre-booked tickets would be disappointed.

He said the report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, who were appointed to carry out an independent review of the New Millennium Experience Company's finances, considers in detail whether it would be cheaper to close earlier than December 31.

And he added: "This is because the expenditure saved would not be as high as the revenue lost and the likely claims which would be made in the event of earlier closure.

"The report indicated that if the company was to honour its obligations when it would be cheaper by some £30-£40 million to trade until the end of the year than to close early.

"The report also indicates significant shortcomings in the financial conduct of the company.

"On August 22 immediate changes in the executive management of the company were made.

"David James was appointed executive chairman of the company, John Darlington was appointed as finance director and steps taken to support them.

"Overall the budget is exceeded by only 4.6% whilst controls are vital, one should not lose sight of the overspend.

"The events that have evolved over the summer and the additional information that has come to light following the PWC report is of course very disappointing, but I trust my noble Lords will agree that the commission and the Government have taken the only sensible course of action available to them, consistent with minimising further financial costs, and preserving the many benefits that are accruing from the project."