Dome company is still spending £600,000 a month

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The Independent Online

At least £600,000 of taxpayer's money is still being spent each month by the company that was set up to run the Millennium Dome, even though the Dome closed to the public on New Year's Eve.

The New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC) no longer runs the huge building in Greenwich, but in the absence of a buyer for the site has continued to pay staff and consultancy costs for public relations and administration.

A substantial part of NMEC's expenses ­ which will mount to £4.9m by the end of the year ­ will be incurred by keeping open the communications department. It includes a high-ranking press officer who will work until the end of December. NMEC, which will go into liquidation in the same month, still uses a leading City public relations firm, Cardew & Co, to enhance its image.

It also employs a legion of lawyers, accountants and administrators. In all, its monthly running costs range from £600,000 up to £1.3m.

NMEC said yesterday that most of its funds were being spent on tying up loose ends and paying debts before it closes down. "NMEC will be handed over to the liquidators at the end of the year," an NMEC spokesman said. "We are still on site. We need to make sure the bills are paid. The liquidation will finish the company."

Opposition MPs plan to question the continuing cost of the Dome when they return to Westminster this autumn.

Alan Beith, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said that ministers were "shirking their responsibility" for the cost of the Dome and had failed to account for the growing bill.

"There seems to be no end to it. The tap at the Dome seems to be turned on long after its closure," Mr Beith said. "Key questions on the Dome have been avoided in Parliament."

In addition to the NMEC costs, the maintenance bill faced by English Partnerships ­ the government regeneration agency that took over the running of the Dome building in July and is responsible for negotiating the sale of the building ­ has reached £420,000 a month.

The structure requires constant and expensive maintenance to stop the tent-like roof sagging, and must also be cleaned of pigeon droppings regularly.

The Government's continuing failure to sell the Dome since the collapse of the Legacy bid in February means that the taxpayer's bill this year will increase by more than £14m.

The figure includes £3.6m spent between March and July to maintain the Dome and its site, and the corporate bill for running NMEC of £3.3m.

To try to recoup some of the costs of maintaining the Greenwich site, English Partnerships is expected to open its doors for concerts and corporate events in October.

A spokeswoman for English Partnerships said that the agency was entertaining offers from across the world to buy the £850m structure.

Observers believe the Government will consider itself lucky if it manages to sell the Dome for about £300m.