The Dome and the lottery both need radical solutions

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The Independent Online

The Lottery crisis is turning into another Dome fiasco, only worse. At least the Dome débâcle can only totter on until the end of the year, when the Government must decide how to get the building off its hands. The problems of choosing the next operator of the lottery, with a discredited board and an angry Camelot, could keep running right through next year. If the new concession starts on schedule next October, it is likely that amid the confusion the computer systems might be untested. Worse, as the saga drags on, the new operator might not be in place by then, meaning there would be £25m less for good causes every week. Just imagine the outcry then.

The Lottery crisis is turning into another Dome fiasco, only worse. At least the Dome débâcle can only totter on until the end of the year, when the Government must decide how to get the building off its hands. The problems of choosing the next operator of the lottery, with a discredited board and an angry Camelot, could keep running right through next year. If the new concession starts on schedule next October, it is likely that amid the confusion the computer systems might be untested. Worse, as the saga drags on, the new operator might not be in place by then, meaning there would be £25m less for good causes every week. Just imagine the outcry then.

It isn't all Tony Blair's fault, or even Chris Smith's, his culture secretary. There is no evidence that ministers instructed the National Lottery Board to prefer Sir Richard Branson's bid to Camelot's. But the decision was made in an atmosphere of distaste for Camelot's ruthless business approach (well attested by its latest game of hardball). At a time of government obsession with opinion, that may have told with the inexperienced and incompetent board.

If you are in a hole, as Lord Healey famously remarked, then stop digging. Mr Blair must now cut his losses with both projects. At this stage, and with a continuing decline in visitors, he would do best to sell the site as quickly as possible to whoever will pay the most. It is too late to hang on in the hope of keeping it as an entertainment venue. The Dome itself (a fine building, for all the problem of its lacklustre contents) was designed to be dismantled, after all. If the site is more valuable without it, sell it as such.

The lottery fiasco poses more difficult problems. Having seen the National Lottery Board's decisions reversed in the courts, Mr Smith's instinct is to try and rescue some dignity with a new chairman and plough on. Too late, again. The board is faced with an almost impossible task of choosing again between applicants in a manner that is above suspicion. Additionally, they must ensure that any new equipment is introduced on time and works. Decent though its members may be, the board and its latest chairman (promoted from within rather than bringing in an experienced businessmen from outside) are simply not up to it.

The Government cannot afford the risk of it failure next autumn. It must postpone the new round, appoint a new board, give Camelot an extra year in situ - and face the Opposition's jeers with a shrug. It is better to have a little egg on the face today than to be ensnared in a disaster next year.

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