Indemnity for Dome directors condemned

31 Jan 02
Senior backbench MPs have condemned the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for secrecy and obfuscation over its handling of the crisis-ridden Millennium Dome project.

01 February 2002

Parliament's spending watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee, has published a highly critical report into the Dome fiasco, which swallowed £628m of lottery money in a doomed bid to make it a success.

Its members fiercely criticised the DCMS for not informing Parliament when, in June 2000, it granted directors of the New Millennium Experience Company indemnity against personal liability in the event of the company going bust.

They concluded that the serious financial difficulties that plagued the project from its inception meant the decision could have cost taxpayers millions of pounds.

In evidence to the committee, the department said it had not notified Parliament because it believed it was merely confirming an existing indemnity offered to directors of non-governmental organisations.

But the MPs rejected this argument. 'The indemnity was outside the normal course of business and exposed the public purse to expenditure of such a nature and size that Parliament should have been notified, especially as the indemnity was a response to the company's emerging financial difficulties and there was the real prospect of it being called,' they said.

The committee also accused NMEC, the DCMS and the Millennium Commission of facing up to the Dome's considerable financial problems too 'late in the day'. Its report said: 'By late January there were real concerns about solvency. But the problem was not quantified until August.'

MPs criticised NMEC's decision to base its plans on achieving a target of 12 million visitors in just one year 'before anyone knew what would be in the Dome, what it would cost to visit the Dome, and how 12 million people would get there'. They also attacked the decision to have three different bodies running the project, saying the resulting management structure was too 'complex and elaborate'.

Edward Leigh, the PAC's Conservative chair, particularly criticised the culture department, whose role had 'not had the attention it deserves'. He added: 'This lack of transparency is wholly unacceptable and must not be repeated.'


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