Millennium project benefits from the spin of experience

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Indy Politics
The Millennium Exhibition yesterday got a new name, an increased budget and its own public holiday on 31 December 1999. But uncertainty still surrounds several aspects of the project including whether the dome at Greenwich in south-east London, will be permanent.

The end of the year 1999 show has now been renamed the Millennium Experience to get away from the idea that it will be a boring business exhibition. Peter Mandelson, Minister Without Portfolio, who is now in charge of the project, also confirmed that the budget of the project was now pounds 750m, plus an extra pounds 50m that may be called upon before it opens in December 1999.

Mr Mandelson also announced that Mark McCormack, of IMG Associates, the sports sponsorship company, would be employed on a commission basis. In fact, this was reported by The Independent in February, which said that it was likely to cost pounds 15m to raise the pounds 150m that the project needs. No contract has been signed with Mr McCormack.

While the Cabinet approved the project at its meeting yesterday, it is still unclear whether the five criteria which Tony Blair said would determine the future of the project have been met.The notion of a national programme has been met with pounds 76m of the Experience's budget being earmarked for projects outside London. On management, the Government announced that former Channel 4 boss Michael Grade; Ruth MacKenzie, the newly appointed director of Scottish Opera, and Sir Alan Cockshaw, chairman of Amec Construction, would be appointed to the board of the organisers, now called the New Millennium Experience Company.

However, the promise of no money from the public purse has been fudged. Chris Smith, Secretary of State for National Heritage, confirmed that the project will be receiving pounds 400m of lottery funding, plus an extra pounds 50m if cash is needed before the opening. However, while ministers hope it will be within budget, there cannot be any guarantee that such a big project will not cost a lot more.

Ticket sales would bring in pounds 135m from up to 12 million visitors, which Bob Ayling, the BA chief executive who is also chairman of the company organising it, compared with the Munich Beer festival, which attracts 6 million people in two weeks, and the Hanover trade exhibition which is expected to attract 40 million.

The decision on the future of the site is to be reviewed. The future of the dome is still uncertain. Mr Mandelson said that Greenwich would be home to a "new national digital network for education and learning" which will promote the "university for industry", being set up for workers to study for degrees, and the "national grid for learning" which will bring the Internet into schools.

Mr Mandelson confirmed that Sir Cameron Mackintosh, producer of Les Miserables, would be creating a show - "an arrow through time" - in the 10,000-seater drum arena, and he said the Experience would be "unmissable".