Examination of Witness (Questions 1 -
THURSDAY 15 JUNE 2000
Chairman: Jennie Page, thank you very
much for coming here this morning. You have always been a welcome
visitor at our evidence sessions and you are a welcome visitor
today. We shall be most interested to hear what you have to say
and Mr Faber will start the questioning.
1. Good morning, Ms Page. We now know that when
the Millennium Commission met on 22 May to consider the additional
grant which NMEC had requested the Board of NMEC informed the
Commission that if they did not have additional funds made available
to them that day they would become insolvent that very day. How
much responsibility do you feel you bear for the position that
NMEC found themselves in at that time?
(Ms Page) Of course, Mr Faber, you start
by making reference to an event which was indeed many weeks after
I had left the Dome. It might help if I just remind the Committee
of my association with the Dome. Before doing so I would like
to reply to the Chairman's comments about the welcome because
of course it is an old acquaintance that we have. I think it was
December 1997 when I first gave evidence before you and on that
occasion I was of course accompanied by Bob Ayling and Michael
Grade but not by Sam Chisholm whom you had rather hoped to see
and whom indeed I do not think you have yet managed to see on
the subject of the Dome. On that particular occasion the Committee
members were very complimentary about the successes and achievements
of myself and the team at NMEC, and indeed I could quote, Chairman,
the references that you yourself made in saying that you had rarely,
if ever, seen such a level of absolute competence as you had been
able to observe during the last two years and that I personally
had bestowed credibility and credit on public service of a kind
which you wished others would emulate. It is indeed deeply ironic
that within three months of that Committee hearing my association
with the Dome was ended. I have not worked at the Dome since 4
February; I have not visited it since. Mr Faber, with justice,
asks how at this stage one can look at the total history of the
Dome. That is a very large and complex subject as you yourselves
know very well. I was asked by the Millennium Commission to go
and take over a project which had at the end of December 1996
failed to deliver a satisfactory business plan or management set-up
which the Commission was prepared to back. Indeed, I was asked
to go and run the Millennium Commission so in both cases I arrived
somewhat after the beginning of the story.
2. Can you remind us of the actual date on which
you took over?
(Ms Page) There was an announcement in Parliament
on either the 18 or 20 January 1997 which was made with the agreement
of the then Opposition, which said that I would go across as Chief
Executive designate of a company which was not yet then formed
on the basis of an indicative budget, and it was not a fully worked
up budget for a visitor experience, of £758 million. The
company did not come into existence until the middle of February
and of course the progress on the Millennium Experience in the
first six to seven months was extremely difficult until such time
as the new Government came and did its review and agreed that
it would go forward.
3. So the answer to my question is that you
do not feel any responsibility?
(Ms Page) No, that is not my answer. Unfortunately,
Mr Faber, the Chairman's intervention meant that I did not get
to the end of my somewhat lengthy statement. As the Chairman knows,
it is a rare thing to shut me up and only he has ever managed
to do so. The company as a whole therefore does take responsibility
for the budget to which it worked, but this is not a single person
or a single company exercise. There is no doubt that the circumstances
in which the company was required to deliver against the aspirations
of the Millennium Commission and of the Government were unique
in corporate governance terms, and in terms of the amount of part
that other people had to play in the definition of both the costs
and the likely income. As the Chief Executive of the company of
course part of my job is to stand forward and defend the decisions
that the company took during the time I was with them. I do believe
that there are circumstances in connection with the revenue side
which could have happened differently had there been more contingency
on the costs side which had been kept back. We were unable to
keep back as much contingency as we would have wished for a variety
of reasons, some of them concerned with late decisions that changed
the nature of the Experience and brought additional costs with
them. All of the decisions that involved that were not mine but
they were taken by the company.
4. There is a whole range of issues there which
I would like to follow up and come on to. Had the company ever
been in that position before, of having to go and ask for money
to stave off bankruptcy at a day's notice?
(Ms Page) Certainly not. It was obvious in the last
quarter of 1999 that the cash flow arrangements were always going
to be extremely tight around the first quarter of 2000. All predictions
right the way through the life of the project showed that there
was very little leeway on the cash flow in the first quarter of
2000 and that if the take-up of tickets not only in quantum but
in terms of purchases in advance of visits were not as predicted
in the business plan then there would be problems which would
have to be addressed.
5. Do you think that when you were removed from
your job other directors of the company should have gone at the
(Ms Page) Are you talking about the directors who
6. Should they have resigned at that stage rather
than subsequently? Should Mr Grade have taken greater responsibility?
(Ms Page) I think it would be invidious of me to comment
on non-executive colleagues.
7. You referred to evidence which you gave in
1997 and I have read through the entire evidence which you and
Mr Grade and Mr Ayling gave on that day on 2 December 1997. The
vast majority of it is, "Trust us. We know what we are doing.
We are all experts". Mr Grade was an expert in television,
Mr Chisholm an expert in television, Mr Ayling an expert in entertainment
and in travel. "Trust us, we are experts." My colleague,
Mr Fabricant, pressed you all repeatedly as to whether there was
a contingency plan if the project went wrong and you all said,
"No, we are the experts. We know what we are doing".
Do you not think perhaps that the board should have taken greater
responsibility now that it has turned into the fiasco that it
(Ms Page) I think it would be invidious of me to comment
on individual members of the board.
8. Can we go back to the early days of the design
of the Dome and the design of the content and the Zones? What
was your understanding of the reasons for Stephen Bayley's resignation?
(Ms Page) There were a number of different issues
associated with the departure of Stephen Bayley before the events
which hit the public had occurred. It had been clear that Stephen
Bayley and the rest of the team in the company were finding it
difficult to work with one another. Their styles were entirely
different. The contribution that Stephen Bayley was able to make
and wanted to make was not a full time one and it was quite clearly
necessary to have a full time team, all of whom were pulling in
the same direction. While I had discussed with Stephen Bayley
the possibility of a reduced involvement which would have kept
him associated with the Dome, a number of things occurred which
included his own decision about the circumstances of working on
the Dome that led to him going.
9. Do you think with hindsight that he should
have been replaced by a single person, a creative person, who
would have pulled together the creative aspects of the Dome instead
of by the succession of committees which effectively replaced
(Ms Page) The committees were either in place or in
concept before the departure of Stephen Bayley and it was always
the intention that there would be a senior group of people who
were experienced in a large range of visitor attractions, television,
media, science and so on, who would look at the content, for two
reasons. One is that it is very difficult to discover somebody
who is as polymathic as you would have to be to be an expert in
absolutely everything to do with the content of the Dome, who
was both available and affordable by the company within a very
tight budget. The second is that because the Dome was meant to
encompass a lot of different views and attract a lot of different
people there was a feeling among many people that it would be
inappropriate to have too much unity over such a very large area
and that the diversity that was provided by a lot of people was
a very good thing. Finally, of course, it is fair to say that
the pulls in different directions on the designers from both the
team interpreting the Millennium Commission's desire for a worthy
content, the sponsors' and the operations team's desire for something
which is very attractive to the public, and the intervention of
other people, not only the committees on the content but also
Ministers, on the various aspects, all of those different pulls
on the designers would have continued to exist had there been
a single person masterminding it.
10. What was the first process which a design
had to go through to be approved? It went to two people called
the creative editors, as I understand it.
(Ms Page) Each of the Zones had a number of staff
working on it. There was a content editor, there was usually an
assistant who was responsible for making sure that all of the
necessary paperwork was done, the right connections were made
with the rest of the organisation, the cross-referencing was done.
There was a project manager as we got closer to the actual realisation,
and indeed even at the early stages of trying to work out how
some of these buildings would work. There were a number of people
inside the company who were associated with the designers, led
by the content editor. They would also be expected to present
to the sponsors where a Zone was sponsored. They were making presentations
in advance of the sponsor having been identified, quite clearly
in the early days to many different companies, and they were also
on occasion required to present to government departments which
had a significant interest in the topic covered by the Zone, individual
11. So it was designed by committee?
(Ms Page) It was design subjected to a lot of review.
12. And these creative editors were if you like
the portal, the entrance, to the rest of it?
(Ms Page) Yes.
13. And they were two people who were recruited
(Ms Page) There were more than two of them because
quite clearly two could not have handled all the 14 Zones. Some
of the editors were on contract from other companies, some were
freelance, one or two were employed directly by the company.
14. And they were all experienced people in
the world of visitor attractions and designs of attractions?
(Ms Page) Many of them have been used to working in
the events and visitor attraction world and some in the museum
world, not all of them.
15. One came, as I understand it, straight over
(Ms Page) One of them had not got that background
experience. He had done a postgraduate degree at the Royal College
of Art, he had been accustomed to working in the conceptual side
with David Puttnam, he had actually of course also previously
worked for me at English Heritage, but he was not recruited by
16. I must declare an interest apparently. I
went to the opening on New Year's Eve with my family and children.
We had a wonderful time, we loved it, we loved the opening event,
we will be going again, we cannot thank you for what you have
done, despite the publicity subsequently.
(Ms Page) Thank you.
17. Can I just start on that evening? Before
Christmas when I had not got any tickets it occurred to me that
perhaps I should phone up and find out where the tickets were,
which I did and I was told to come and collect them or arrange
for them to be collected. Presumably quite a lot of people were
thinking that, or not. What happened in that week after Christmas
with the ticketing fiasco for the opening night?
(Ms Page) The time to direct your attention to is
in actual fact in advance of the last two weeks. What undoubtedly
happened was that the process of producing the tickets was delayed
at several stages during the year 1999. It was an extraordinarily
difficult process because it was necessary to identify the guests
and while the Committee were fairly obvious invitees, there were
many other people who were not. Many of our guests were guests
who had been nominated by our sponsors, some of them through competitions
with their own customers, and that whole process took a long time
for a lot of the names to come through. Similarly, the members
of the general public who were invited were, most of them, invited
by competition through newspapers, and those invited by the Millennium
Commission were selected from among the staff of Millennium Commission
grant awardees. The whole process of identifying people took much
longer than everyone expected. I must briefly remind you that
there were immense concerns about security in relation to 31 December
which meant that the police were approaching it with very great
care and attention and were requiring a lot of security checks
in many different ways which in fact at the end of the day were
one of the problems we encountered. The security checks which
the police suggested we used involved asking those people who
were invited to complete security forms the like of which are
completed for party political conferences. There is a great deal
of difference between asking the 2,000, however many it is, people
who go to a party political conference and do it on a fairly regular
basis to fill in a complicated form, and asking about 14,000 people
to do so, which is what of course we did. Therefore many of those
forms came back late. We then found grave difficulties in terms
of the computer work to get those tickets issued, and I think
it is fair to say that not sufficient senior management time was
addressed to that mechanical issue early enough in the month of
late November and early December. I know myself that I lost sight
of what the progress was on the particular tickets and simply
relied on being told it was going ahead all right rather than
looking myself. I was down on the site. The ticket unit was up
in Victoria. It did have a senior manager. I just think everybody
was so overworked on everything else that we did not provide sufficient
senior management assistance to the people who were doing it.
When we discovered that things had gone wrong the company
18. When were you first told, "Jennie,
I am sorry, we have got serious problems"? The 15th December?
(Ms Page) The 21st.
(Ms Page) We worked for five nights without stopping
in order to rectify it. The company was devastated by `flu. We
were trying to finish the Dome. We had the rehearsals of 900 performers
for the opening show, and no spare staff. Nonetheless the staff
worked through the night. Everybody from all different parts of
the company pulled together and the actual problem was recouped.
Unfortunately, the publicity about it had created an atmosphere
inside which many people were very worried about whether they
were going to get their tickets and that created a circumstance
in which for that reason and because everybody worried about the
transport, and the transport opportunities for getting to the
Dome that night were very limited, again because of the security
we were required to put in place, a lot of people came a lot earlier
than they otherwise would have done to Stratford and part of the
physical problems at Stratford were undoubtedly the result of
concerns about the tickets.