NAO report will attack 'catalogue of errors' at Dome

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A critical report on the Millennium Dome by the official public spending watchdog today will list a catalogue of errors by the Government.

A critical report on the Millennium Dome by the official public spending watchdog today will list a catalogue of errors by the Government.

The report by the National Audit Office (NAO) will attack the flawed estimates of the number of visitors likely to attend the Dome and the weak financial management and will say that it has in effect been trading while insolvent.

Downing Street threw a protective shield around Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the minister responsible for the Dome, saying yesterday that Tony Blair would not bow to Tory demands to sack him. The Prime Minister clashed with William Hague in the Commons over the issue.

The Conservative leader demanded that Lord Falconer resign if he is criticised in the report and described the Dome as "a monument to ministerial mismanagement". He accused Mr Blair of squandering money on the project and blamed the problems on his mismanagement and cronyism.

Mr Blair said that he would not accept Mr Hague's criticism of the project because the Tories drew up the initial plans for the Dome. "I accept criticism from members of the public on the Dome but not from him," Mr Blair said. "When Labour was in opposition we were asked for our support for the Dome. We were told that if we did not support it, thousands of jobs would be at risk."

Mr Blair accused Mr Hague, the former secretary of state for Wales, of denying the part he had played in the Dome as a member of a cabinet committee, GEN36, set up under the last government to plan the Millennium Festival. The group, chaired by Michael Heseltine, took the early decisions about the Dome's design, planning, management and likely visitor numbers.

"The only difference between the robbers caught at the Dome yesterday and you is that the Tories are never caught at the scene of the crime," Mr Blair told Mr Hague.

Ministers who have seen a draft of the report said that it will not be a "demolition job" on Lord Falconer or the Government, and that some of the mistakes will be traced back to the previous administration.

Virginia Bottomley, the former secretary of state for national heritage, chaired the Millennium Commission, which estimated in 1995 that between 15 million and 30 million people would visit the Dome. This was cut to between 10.9 million and 16 million in 1996. The final 12 million official target was cut to 6 million amid this year's financial problems.

Ministers will also counterattack against Peter Ainsworth, the Tory spokesman on culture and another strong critic, by recalling that he served as parliamentary private secretary to Ms Bottomley.

While Mr Blair may not welcome the NAO report, he may take comfort from its finding that the project was completed on time and within budget.

The Tories will dismiss Labour's counter-attack as a smokescreen. "The problems were not with the building but what Labour put inside it," a Tory source said. "Remember that Peter Mandelson visited Disneyland when he was minister for the Dome."