Royal visit blamed for ships race losses: Extravaganza on Mersey used up pounds 600,000 of taxpayers' money

KING Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain were blamed yesterday for part of the spiralling cost of the disastrous Tall Ships and Fanfare for the New World events on Merseyside in August 1992.

Christopher Farrow, chief executive of the Merseyside Development Corporation, which ploughed pounds 600,000 of taxpayers' money into the loss-making extravaganza, told MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee that the decision by the Spanish monarch to attend 'dramatically altered' the hospitality budget.

Their entourage was put up in hotels, their transport was paid for and because protocol demanded that government ministers, ambassadors and their staff, and other dignatories accompany them, the eventual bill went even higher.

Pressed by Alan Milburn, MP for Darlington, Mr Farrow was unable to put a figure on the final cost of the royal visit.

It was one of several lapses by Mr Farrow. MPs repeatedly said that they were unimpressed with his evidence and by the MDC's failure to honour the debts incurred by Carroll Promotions, an external company set up to stage the concert, which went into liquidation.

Alan Williams, MP for Swansea West, complained that small businesses which supplied Carroll Promotions were misled into believing the concert company was a 'bona fide operation of substance' because it had received substantial support from the MDC.

In fact, Carroll Promotions was a pounds 2 shell company which went bust, and its creditors have still to be paid.

Mr Williams accused the MDC of deserting its normal investment policy. Usually, he said, such a flimsy company would not stand a chance of receiving such sums from the MDC.

The ire of MPs was particularly reserved for Sir Desmond Pitcher, chairman of the MDC. As previously highlighted in the Independent, Sir Desmond played a prominent role in the disaster.

In a letter to MPs, Brendan Carroll, head of Carroll Promotions, went further. Mr Carroll said: 'In addition to running the concert, I was still acting as PR consultant to the MDC, in which capacity I was instructed to ensure that the corporation - and most especially, its chairman - should bask in the reflected glory of the event.'

In press announcements, Mr Carroll duly trumpeted: 'Fanfare for a New World was the brainchild of Sir Desmond Pitcher. . .'

At the concert, Sir Peter Ustinov also paid tribute to Sir Desmond - yet the chairman had not lost his job, had not accepted responsibility and was not appearing before MPs.

Mr Farrow disputed Mr Carroll's version of events, insisting that Sir Desmond had not played a major part in overseeing the concert and had not demanded he receive credit for the idea.

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