Select Committee on Public Accounts Fourteenth Report



    (a) The New Millennium Experience Company

      The Millennium Commission initially sought a private sector operator for the project, but it became clear that the private sector would not accept the risks. In January 1997 the then Government decided that the project should be delivered in the public sector by a Companies Act company, which would also be a non-departmental public body, whose sole shareholder would be a Government Minister accountable to Parliament: the Millennium Commission lacked the legal powers needed to carry out the Dome project itself. The Board of the Company was accountable both to the Shareholder and to the Millennium Commission. The Financial Memorandum between the Company and the Shareholder stipulated that nothing in it was intended to derogate from the duties of the directors under company law.[5]

    (b) The Shareholder

      The Shareholder, a Minister of the Crown, was the owner of the Company. He had the normal responsibilities under company law to appoint directors and auditors, but in addition, reflecting the Company's status as a non-departmental public body, he established a measure of control over the Company through the Financial Memorandum. The Shareholder monitored the Company's progress against the five key commitments for the Dome which the Government made in July 1997. These covered cost, content, national impact, effective management, and what should happen to the Dome site after the end of the Millennium Exhibition.[6]

    (c) The Department for Culture, Media and Sport

      The Department advises the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and issues policy and financial directions to lottery distributing bodies, including the Millennium Commission. The Department also has to satisfy itself that the Millennium Commission has appropriate systems for managing and controlling lottery money. The Department's responsibilities included advising the Shareholder about the Dome project, and the Accounting Officer of the Department could issue instructions to the Chief Executive of the Company relating to his or her own responsibilities as Accounting Officer for the Company. The Department advised the two Ministers concerned with the Dome (the Secretary of State and the Shareholder) throughout. In doing so, the Department drew on information provided by the Company, by the Millennium Commission and by consultants.[7]

    (d) The Millennium Commission

      The Millennium Commission's statutory function is to grant-aid projects. It has no power to run projects itself. From the outset, the Chairman has been the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport or his predecessor. The Millennium Commission held the Company accountable for the use of the grants the Commission had made, and was responsible for approving the Company's business plans and budgets, and monitoring the Company's progress in building and operating the Dome.[8]

10. When asked how the Company compared with his previous experience in the private sector, the Company's Accounting Officer told our predecessors that it was quite different from anything in the public listed company sector. There had been a complex structure for running the Company which, as both a Companies Act company and a non-departmental public body, was "suffering from a split personality". The structure had been introduced as a consequence of the failure to achieve the original objective of getting the whole project contracted out to the private sector, and it had been very hard to live with. With three Accounting Officers involved, there had been a number of different lines of responsibility which at times had become confusing to the participants. Indeed the Comptroller and Auditor General reported that the parties involved were not always in agreement as to where in practice the burden of influence and authority lay.[9]

11. As regards the structure within the Company itself, the Accounting Officer, who was appointed on 5 September 2000, said that if he had been in post earlier he would, while acknowledging the contribution of the design and development team, have brought in a separate executive team to run the project from 1 January onwards. He would also have had a more structured executive component within the Board rather than a preponderance of non-executive directors. He would have looked to the core executive unit to manage the project, with the Board advising rather than taking a leadership role.[10] In common with many non-departmental public bodies, but few large limited companies, almost all of the directors of the Company have been non-executive.[11]

12. In response to the difficulties being experienced there were several changes in the Company at senior levels during the course of the year of operation:

  • In the light of the problems when the Dome opened, M Pierre-Yves Gerbeau was interviewed late in January 2000, and replaced the former Chief Executive, Ms Jennifer Page CBE, on 7 February. Ms Page had been Chief Executive and Accounting Officer of the Company since February 1997.

  • Unlike his predecessor, M Gerbeau was not appointed Accounting Officer of the Company. Instead the Company's Finance Director, Mr Neil Spence, became the Accounting Officer.

  • In May 2000 the Company's non-executive Chairman, Mr Robert Ayling, resigned and Mr David Quarmby took his place.

  • In September 2000 Mr Quarmby stepped down, and Mr David James CBE was appointed Executive Chairman. He also became the Company's Accounting Officer, taking over from Mr Spence. M Gerbeau remained Chief Executive.[12]


13. There should be clarity in the arrangements for managing such projects, in both design and implementation. The Company told the Committee that those involved in the Dome project had found the lines of responsibility confusing, and that there had been disagreement as to where influence and authority lay. Effective control and oversight of the use of public funds, and full accountability to Parliament is essential.


14. The Millennium Commission's May 1995 guidelines to potential operators for a national millennium exhibition expressed the aspiration that operators should plan for up to 100,000 visitors a day, that "as a minimum it is envisaged that the exhibition will attract 15 million people" and that "a figure in excess of 30 million is unlikely to be achievable".[13] The Commission told our predecessors that at that time there had been no concept of the Dome or of the exhibition being at Greenwich, and that it could have been a non-charging exhibition.[14]

15. The Company's May 1997 business plan assumed 12 million paying visitors (although it considered that its budget would balance at around 11 million). At that stage, however, final decisions had not been made on the Dome's contents, on ticket prices, on marketing strategies, and on whether there would be access to the area by car for the purposes of dropping off and picking up. The decision to plan on the basis of 12 million visitors meant the Dome having to attract more than four times as many visitors as the next most popular UK 'pay-to-visit' attraction (Alton Towers) achieved in 1999, a number which in only one year of operation would have to be attained from a standing start.[15]

16. The Millennium Commission's decision to award a grant to the Company took account of estimates of visitor numbers from the Commission's consultants, Deloitte & Touche Consulting Group, that ranged from 8 million to 12 million. The Commission's staff recommended that the Company's business plan be based, for the sake of prudence, on the figure of 8 million visitors which was the 'worst case' of the estimates provided to the Commission by its consultants. However, the Company stood by its forecast, and this was the basis for the business plan approved by the Commissioners in July 1997.[16]

17. The Company told us that by the end of July 2000 they had exceeded Alton Towers' record for a whole year, and that they were achieving 87 per cent customer satisfaction, but acknowledged that they had not got the message across.[17] The final attendance figure published by the Company was 6.5 million, of which 5.5 million were paying visitors.[18]

18. Our predecessors pressed the Commission on why the project had been approved on the basis of 12 million visitors. They said that it had been a high risk but not unachievable business plan:[19] Deloitte & Touche had not said that 12 million was impossible, but that it was at the upper end of what was achievable, and 8 million had been the worst case. Advice from officials had tended to be on the prudent side, but some people had taken the view that 12 million was conservative: previous research had shown a range of numbers between 10.9 million and 16 million visitors. The Commission said that, in considering the Company's figure of 12 million, the Commissioners had been looking at what had been achieved around the rest of the world.[20] The Comptroller and Auditor General's Report showed, however, that the Commission's staff had previously concluded that there were no benchmarks against which to make any detailed assessment of the reasonable expectation for visitor numbers, and that the Company's own subsequent review had concluded that the Dome had been a new and unproven attraction with no direct comparators.[21]

19. Our predecessors suggested that, on a more realistic view of visitor numbers, the financing requirement might have been such that it would have been impossible to allow the project to go ahead, and that insufficient attention had been given to getting the predictions of visitor numbers right. The Company's response was that, while the budget would probably not have passed the due diligence required for a listing on the Stock Exchange, the project had been the means of fulfilling a vision and as such there had been a reasonable prospect, by all the criteria available to those who had been required to judge, that it would be achieved.[22]

20. In June 1997 the Commission's consultants had drawn attention to the importance of having operational expertise at the Company. During the content development phases the Company involved, as advisers, a number of eminent individuals with experience in the visitor attraction industry, the media, design and specific subject areas. However, the Company had lacked senior staff with experience of running a large visitor attraction and acknowledged that they should have had more operational expertise at the critical design and build stages.[23]

21. In the light of the problems experienced on opening the Dome, M. Pierre-Yves Gerbeau, who had most recently worked at Euro Disney, replaced the former Chief Executive on 7 February 2000 and brought in further expertise to assist him.[24] The Company said that they had needed somebody who knew how to improve the access and manage large numbers of people moving in a relatively confined space. M.Gerbeau had made a number of changes when he arrived, but the Company had needed somebody like him around the spring of 1999. They considered M. Gerbeau an inspired choice and rated his contribution as outstanding, and measurable in the best part of one million visitors.[25]

22. Our predecessors questioned the Company about its marketing. The Company's May 1997 business plan included a budget of £27 million for marketing, advertising and communications (3.6 per cent of the overall budget for the project), which was subsequently increased in stages to £40 million. There was, however, a lack of interest in visiting the Dome, reflecting a lack of clear understanding about its contents, and the fact that tickets did not ultimately need to be bought in advance.[26] The Company acknowledged that there had been a lack of an integrated marketing strategy. There had been a concentrated effort to get the Dome built and open by 31 December, but things had been lost in the process and marketing had been one of them.[27] However, there were other factors:

  • When the Company's Board approved the marketing plan in November 1998, the content of the Dome had not been finalised.[28] In the Company's words "how ¼ could we start marketing the ¼ thing in the middle of 1999 when we did not know what it was to look like".[29]

  • The Company had assumed that ticket sales would be driven by massive free media exposure, word of mouth recommendation and a traditional fascination with 'Expo'-style events. In the light of actual visitor numbers, the Company had concluded that these were very risky assumptions. The Dome had been a new and unproven attraction, there had been little time to build and establish a reputation and brand, and it had to operate in a very competitive visitor attraction market;[30]

  • In February 2000 the Company reviewed its marketing approach and concluded that the original marketing budget had been low compared with other visitor attractions.[31]

23. As fitting-out of the Dome, originally due to be completed by October 1999, continued up to opening day, there was limited opportunity for trial running.[32] The Company told our predecessors that when the Dome opened there had been difficulties with the layout, access, and circulation and the decision not to sell tickets at the door had been a big mistake: by September 2000, 'door sales' represented 20 per cent of all sales. Justifiable criticisms of the way the Dome was being run on a day-to-day basis had made marketing difficult at the beginning, and the problems which had occurred early on had been prejudicial to attracting paying customers.[33]

24. When the Company were asked how much they attributed the Dome's problems to press criticism, they said that there had been an uphill struggle after a poor start. They estimated that each time the Dome received a bad press, sales enquiries dropped by between 30 per cent and 50 per cent in the following week.[34]


25. By the end of the year, the Dome had attracted 5.5 million paying visitors compared with the 12 million on which the Company's business plan was based. The resulting shortfall in income is the main reason for the financial difficulties of the project. The Company received much less visitor income than the £169 million in the business plan.

26. The Millennium Commissioners agreed the Company's target of 12 million paying visitors, and provided lottery funding based on it. But the target was set before final decisions had been taken on the Dome's contents, ticket prices, marketing strategies and transport arrangements. It meant that the Dome would have to attract in just one year, and from a standing start, more than four times as many visitors as the next most popular UK 'pay-to-visit' attraction (Alton Towers) achieved in 1999. In approving the target of 12 million visitors the Commissioners went against the advice of their own staff, who recommended planning on the basis of 8 million.

27. The Company's whole marketing strategy, the marketing mix, the pricing strategy, the opportunities for discounts - and when they were offered, how and to whom - was learned only by experience as the Company moved through the year. Many more commercial opportunities could have been exploited if the marketing arrangements had been properly planned and managed.

28. The risks in terms of visitor numbers were aggravated during implementation of the project in a number of ways, in particular:

  • the delay in completing the fit-out of the Dome meant there was limited opportunity for trial running, and when it opened there were operational difficulties;

  • the Company initially lacked senior staff with experience of running a large visitor attraction;

  • the effectiveness of marketing was constrained by uncertainty about the Dome's contents, so raising doubts about the value for money achieved from £40 million made available for marketing, advertising and communications;

  • initially, tickets were not available at the door, though, following the reversal of this decision, 20 per cent of tickets were sold in this way.


29. The Company had expected to attract £195 million in sponsorship, but included £175 million in its 1997 budget to allow for a shortfall. The Company told our predecessors that by November 2000 they had received £117.2 million, comprising £82.7 million cash and £34.5 million 'value in kind'. The original sponsorship target had been severely testing. The content of the Dome, and therefore the 'offer' to sponsors, was still being developed and the sponsorship market was largely untested. There had also been no established templates for such sponsorship arrangements. The major companies involved had driven hard bargains, while other potential sponsors had decided to take their sponsorship elsewhere. The Company confirmed that all the sponsorship money which was contractually due had been paid.[35]

30. In addition two companies designed, built and largely financed two extra zones ('Journey' and 'Talk'), and several other companies provided services or product enhancements. The Company valued this form of sponsorship at £46 million, but as the items provided remained in the ownership of the sponsors or were provided at no cost to the Company, they had not been included in the Company's balance sheet and did not count against the overall project cost of £793 million.[36]


31. The financing of the Dome was heavily dependent on sponsorship income. After the lottery grant, sponsorship was the largest source of income for the project. However, the Company's forecast for sponsorship income was too ambitious. The Company raised only two thirds of its budgeted target of £175 million. This target was not soundly based: it did not reflect the uncertainty surrounding the contents of the Dome or the untested nature of the sponsorship market.


32. After the Dome opened to the public on 1 January 2000, the Millennium Commission awarded four additional grants to the Company - £60 million in February, £29 million in May, £43 million in August, and £47 million in September - bringing the total grant funding of the project to £628 million.[37]

33. The Millennium Commission's Accounting Officer twice sought and received Directions[38] from the Commissioners to pay additional grant. The first Direction related to the additional grant of £29 million awarded in May, and was sought by the Accounting Officer because in his view it could not be justified on value for money grounds. He considered that further funding of up to £80 million could be required to keep the Dome open through the year and that such funding would not represent value for money from the lottery's perspective, given the momentum that already existed towards the Commission's strategic objective of regenerating the Greenwich peninsula. At the time the Company estimated that immediate closure of the Dome would cost up to £200 million.[39]

34. The Commissioners decided that grant of up to £29 million should be offered to the Company. The Commission's Accounting Officer told our predecessors that in the view of the Commissioners images of the Dome closing in May, less than half way through the year, would be damaging for the reputation of the United Kingdom. The economic impact of closure was another factor that had weighed heavily in the Commissioners' decision.[40]

35. The position when the Commission awarded an additional grant of £43 million in August was different, with the prospect of a purchaser inasmuch as the Government had selected Dome Europe plc as preferred bidder for the Dome. Heads of terms had been signed, but contracts had not been exchanged. As the deal with Dome Europe would have ensured continued use of the Dome and significant private sector investment, the Commission's Accounting Officer advised that he could support a grant provided it was at the minimum level required to achieve the objective of facilitating the deal. However, in September Dome Europe withdrew from the sale. The Commission's Accounting Officer advised the Commissioners that without the prospect of a deal he could not support the additional grant of £47 million to the Company. The Commissioners again instructed the Accounting Officer to proceed with the offer of grant and the release of funds as necessary.[41]

36. The Company's solvency had been a matter of concern throughout the year 2000. The Millennium Commission and the Company had discussed this point at the end of January, and in May the Board of the Company engaged solicitors to advise them on the directors' responsibilities and courses of action given its financial situation. In August 2000 Mr David James was brought into the Company with a view to becoming its Chairman. His appointment as Executive Chairman and Accounting Officer was confirmed in early September. Mr James considered it paramount that the Company's Board establish precisely the extent of its funding deficiency and secure the necessary resources to ensure an eventual orderly resolution of the Company's affairs.[42]

37. On 10 August the Company commissioned consultants, PricewaterhouseCoopers, to assist in identifying its funding requirements to secure a solvent liquidation. In particular, PricewaterhouseCoopers were asked to consider and report on the solvency of the Company and to look at the possible impact of early closure for the Dome. They presented their report to the Company's Board and the Shareholder on 22 August. PricewaterhouseCoopers concluded that the Company was insolvent. They identified two tests of solvency - the ability to pay liabilities as they fall due and total assets exceeding total liabilities (including contingent liabilities and anticipated losses). PricewaterhouseCoopers reported that the Company had been unable to pay liabilities as they had fallen due for an extended period. There had been substantial pressure from creditors for payment, including statutory demands and legal action. PricewaterhouseCoopers also forecast a net liability of £6.2 million as at 31 December 2000.[43]

38. On 30 August Mr James wrote to the Chairman of the Commission, advising that in his opinion the Company had been insolvent since at least early February 2000. He advised the Chairman that the Company was only justified in continuing to trade "by invoking Section 214 of the 1996 insolvency Act which requires directors to continue to trade in the widest interest of creditors for any period during which they believe that there is still a reasonable prospect of sufficient new funds being introduced." He added that early closure would create significant contingent liabilities which might seriously worsen the funding deficiency. Mr James also advised the Chairman of the Commission that "no accurate estimate had ever been previously provided to the Commission as to the sum required for eventual solvent liquidation".[44]

39. Asked why the Company itself had not initiated an assessment of its solvency earlier in the year, the Company's reply was that a characteristic of the Company had been a recurring pattern of threatened insolvency, which had then been addressed with a new grant until a further shortfall in the paying attendance had resulted in a further solvency problem. However, the Company had not allowed for the funds required to close-out as a solvent business after closure of the Dome.[45]

40. Asked why the financial controls of the Company had not identified and crystallised the Company's solvency position much earlier, the Company pointed to the difference between a non-departmental public body dependent on grant funding, and a listed company dependent on a bank. A company in the commercial world normally relied on the strength of its balance sheet. But for the New Millennium Experience Company, the balance sheet had not been used to assess surplus value to offer a banker as security. The Company had instead depended on the availability of grants, and had not had the incentive to keep the strength of its balance sheet under review. It had had to run to the threshold of insolvency to justify a claim for further grant.[46] In continuing to trade the Company took assurance from Parliamentary statements by Ministers, indications from the Millennium Commission that it would consider further grant applications, and its expected share from the proceeds of the sale of the Dome.[47] The Company told said the Government had consistently stated in Parliament that the liabilities of the New Millennium Experience Company would be met in one form or another, and that a comment to that effect had been included in each of the three published accounts of the Company.[48]

41. The Commission said that they had been mindful of the commitment, given by the previous Government and emphasised by this Government, that should the Dome need more money the Commission would have the resources to provide it. They had not been obliged to pay further grant to the Company, but the Company's Board might have assumed that there was a reasonable expectation of their doing so.[49] All the analyses the Commission had seen had shown that closing the Dome at any point in the year would have led to greater debts than the extra grant provided.[50]

42. Our predecessors questioned the Department about contingency planning, since it was not clear whether the main parties had agreed in advance a clear plan of how they would respond if visitor income fell significantly below the required levels.[51] The Department's response was that it had been recognised at the start that once the Dome was constructed and much of the cost already incurred, the room for manoeuvre in the face of low visitor numbers would be very restricted. As the financial situation deteriorated the only options, short of closing the Dome, had been to rely on receipts from the planned sale of the Dome and further grant from the Commission.[52] The Commission said that on several occasions during the year they had asked the Company for an exit strategy, but the Company had either failed to produce one or had produced strategies which the Commission had not considered adequate. Not until the Company commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers had it produced the first reliable estimate of costs for the final stage of their business.[53]

43. There were weaknesses in financial management and control at the Company through the course of the year which had impaired the Company's ability to produce reliable financial forecasts. The Company had been unable to track and quantify fully its contractual commitments, and had found difficulty in establishing the full extent of its liabilities through to solvent liquidation and hand-over to a new owner.[54]

44. The Company's Accounting Officer told our predecessors that its finance department had been very stretched. Had he been in post earlier he would have bought in the services of an external accounting operation to cope with the peaks and troughs.[55] He would have had a resident executive finance team on site, while contracting out the work to a firm of accountants so that there would then have been more flexibility to cope with the workload.[56] The problem had been that they had been overwhelmed, with £132 million of invoices flooding in during a three month period around the end of the previous year. They did not however believe that a stronger finance function would have led to a better outcome at the Dome.[57]

45. Asked whether they would need any money over and above the additional grant of £47 million awarded in September 2000, the Company said they were confident that the sum of £47 million would be sufficient to enable them to trade to the end of the year and complete the orderly windup and solvent liquidation of the Company. If further decommissioning were required to sell the Dome, the cost of that decommissioning would be deducted from the proceeds from the sale of the Dome. The Company saw the cost of putting the Dome into a saleable condition as being in the order of £22 million, for which they currently carried a provision of £7.5 million.[58]


46. There was early evidence of the Company's financial problems, and cause for concern throughout the year 2000 about its solvency. But the full extent of the Company's financial difficulties, and therefore the extent of the further calls on public funds, was not crystallised and clearly quantified until August. The full lifetime costs were not identified before the project was approved, nor subsequently when discussing and appraising additional grants. The Company appears to have assumed that the extra money it needed would simply be made available on request, and not until late in the year of operation was any assessment made of the Company's costs through to closure.

47. Although the Dome project was high-risk, with financial planning assumptions based on demanding targets set for visitor numbers and sponsorship, there was no clear plan of how the parties would respond to a shortfall in income. The Company failed to produce an exit strategy acceptable to the Commission, and the Commission's Accounting Officer twice sought and was directed by the Commissioners to award additional grants to the Company because he felt unable to defend those grants as representing value for money.

48. The Company failed to establish a sufficiently robust regime of financial management. The Company's financial systems failed to cope with the volume of transactions generated in the run-up to the opening of the Dome. The Company's finance team was also over-stretched for most of the year, and the Company was slow to address this problem.


49. On 25 May 2000 the Chairman of the Company notified the Shareholder that the Board members would have to "consider their personal positions" if the Government did not provide indemnity against wrongful trading actions brought against them by creditors. The Company told our predecessors that the indemnity had been sought by the Board at a time when they had received £10 million less than they had asked for from the Millennium Commission to close what they had then perceived to be the solvency gap, and they were anxious that they had been left in a position of some exposure. On 21 June the Department's Accounting Officer informed the Chairman that the Government would indemnify each of the Directors of the Company in respect of any personal civil liability which was incurred in the execution or purported execution of his Board functions, save where the person had acted dishonestly, in bad faith or recklessly. This was on the basis that the Directors could have recourse to the Government indemnity only if their personal liabilities could not be met by the Company's Directors and Officers insurance policy.[59]

50. Government Accounting covers Parliamentary reporting procedures for contingent liabilities, including indemnities. Indemnities should not be given until 14 days after a Minute on a specific case is laid before Parliament. Liabilities arising in the normal course of a department's business are not covered by the Parliamentary reporting arrangements unless:

  • they arise as a result of a specific guarantee, indemnity or statement of comfort; or

  • expenditure at a later date may be of such a nature or size that Parliament should be given notice.

Government Accounting also states "that the test is what Parliament can be expected to regard as normal course of business in the light of the activities it has authorised".[60]

51. Our predecessors asked the Department why there had been a delay between the indemnity being sought and given to the Company's Directors, why they had not informed Parliament under the usual arrangements for notifying contingent liabilities and why they had not sought the advice of the Committee or the Comptroller and Auditor General. They stated that they did not consider that they had been giving an indemnity, but had been confirming that an existing indemnity, which Parliament had approved, automatically applied as it did for all non-departmental public bodies. Before issuing the indemnity they had consulted the Treasury.[61]

52. The Treasury informed our predecessors that a Contingent Liability Minute which they had laid before Parliament in December 1998 had set out a proposed general indemnity to the board members of non-departmental public bodies, and that they had taken the view that it would be unnecessary to report to Parliament each time specific indemnities were subsequently given to board members. They said that the indemnity to the directors of the New Millennium Experience Company had accorded with the December 1998 Minute and had therefore been viewed by the Treasury as a re-affirmation and clarification of an existing commitment of the Government to the directors rather than as imposing any potential new claim on the Government. Accordingly, when the Company's directors requested the indemnity given to them in June 2000, the Treasury had concluded that a further Minute was unnecessary. The Department agreed with the Treasury's view.[62]

53. As Parliament had not been informed of the indemnity given to the Company's Directors our predecessor Committee sought advice from Speaker's Counsel and the Comptroller and Auditor General. Speaker's Counsel advised that he "would be very surprised to discover that the giving of an indemnity to directors of a Company to protect them against the personal consequences of their breach of statutory duties was regarded as normal business practice". The Comptroller and Auditor General, in his advice to the Committee, noted the contents of the Treasury Minute, but observed that:

  • the indemnity was only given as a result of Directors voicing their concern about their personal positions rather than as a general exercise to give indemnities to board members of all non-departmental public bodies;

  • the Department could only give support based on Exchequer funds, since only lottery distribution bodies had powers to offer lottery funds, which was the first time that Exchequer funds had been committed to the Dome;
  • the circumstances in which the indemnity was given had been far from the Department's "normal course of business" and no comparable cases were apparent;

  • expenditure at a later date ".. may be of such a nature ¼" that Parliament should have been given notice.[63]

54. The Treasury recognised that the Minute of December 1998 could be regarded as an unusual example of the reporting of a contingent liability, in that it covered indemnities to the directors of several hundred separate bodies and indemnities which would be given in the future to the directors of new non-departmental public bodies. While this approach had the advantage of not imposing on Parliament several hundred notifications, the Treasury recognised that is was open to the objection that some of the indemnities may be ones that Parliament may have expected to be drawn specifically to its attention, perhaps because of the nature of the potential liability or the circumstances in which it had been issued. The Treasury therefore undertook to review the reporting arrangements with a view to issuing guidance on the categories of indemnities which should be reported to Parliament, and to consult the National Audit Office in drawing up the guidance.[64]


55. The circumstances in which Parliament should be notified of individual contingent liabilities are set out in "Government Accounting". The indemnity which the Department extended to the Directors of the Company in June 2000 represented such a liability, which also opened up for the first time the risk of voted money rather than lottery money being used in relation to the Dome project. In our view 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.

56. The Department and the Treasury did not see a need to report the indemnity to Parliament because they considered that an indemnity was already in place as a result of the Treasury Minute of December 1998 which permits non-departmental public bodies to offer indemnities to their directors as they are appointed. If that is so, we find it surprising that no reference to such an existing indemnity was made in the letter which the Department sent to the Directors.

57. Changes in financial controls which properly rest with Parliament, but which Parliament has been content to see exercised by the Treasury, require the positive agreement of this Committee. The Treasury agreed to review the reporting arrangements with a view to issuing guidance on the categories of indemnities that should be reported separately to Parliament. It will be important to ensure that indemnities are not treated as routine when they are issued or extended in response to anticipated financial difficulties, or where a significant risk of a major call on voted funds is known to exist.


58. At the start of the year of operation the Company had 2175 staff, and the Company told our predecessors that it had fallen to 1627.[65] Exit polls of visitors had shown that 86 per cent were satisfied with the services provided by the Dome's hosts.[66] Asked what would happen to the staff at the end of the operation, the Company said that they had started an outplacement operation at the Dome and that they expected to have at least 75 per cent of the staff, and hopefully 90 per cent, with jobs by the time they left on 31 December.[67]


59. Visitors to the Dome have expressed a high level of satisfaction with the service provided by the Dome's staff, which is all the more commendable in view of the Dome's well publicised difficulties.

5   C&AG's Report, paras 5, 26-27, 1.14-1.15 Back

6   ibid, paras 26-27 Back

7   C&AG's Report Back

8   ibid, paras 26-27 Back

9    Qs 2, 125-126; C&AG's Report, paras 27, 1.16 Back

10   Qs 204-205 Back

11   C&AG's Report, para 27 Back

12   ibid, paras 3, 1.20, 3.22; and Figure 1, p7; Ev, Appendix 3, p58 Back

13   C&AG's Report, para 3.2 Back

14   Q142 Back

15   C&AG's Report, paras 16-17 Back

16   ibid, paras 16, 18 Back

17  Qs 70, 102, 228 Back

18  New Millennium Experience Company Limited, Annual Report and Financial Statements for the year ended 31 December 2000 Back

19  Qs 144, 206 Back

20  Qs 40-41, 43, 48, 76 Back

21  C&AG's Report, paras 3.6, 3.24 Back

22  Q129 Back

23  Q64 Back

24  C&AG's Report, paras 3.31-3.32 Back

25  Qs 131-133, 253 Back

26   C&AG's Report, paras 3.19, 3.21 Back

27   Q310 Back

28   C&AG's Report, para 3.21 Back

29   Q313 Back

30   C&AG's Report, paras 3.23-3.24 Back

31   ibid, para 3.23 Back

32   ibid, Figure 3, p20 Back

33   Qs 64, 248; C&AG's Report, para 3.30 Back

34   Qs 251-252; C&AG's Report, para 3.14 Back

35   C&AG's Report, para 3.16; Qs 50, 52, 55; Ev, Appendix 5, p47 Back

36   Ev, Appendix 5, p47; C&AG's Report, para 3.17 Back

37   C&AG's Report, para 1.2 Back

38   An Accounting Officer is required to seek a written Direction if instructed, in this case by the Millennium Commission, to pursue a course of action that she or he would not feel able to defend to the Committee of Public Accounts as representing value for money.  Back

39   C&AG's Report, paras 1.3, 2.34-2.35 Back

40   Qs 15, 69-70; C&AG's Report, para 2.36 Back

41   C&AG's Report, paras 1.4-1.5 Back

42   C&AG's Report, paras 9, 2.60 Back

43   ibid, paras 2.61-2.62 Back

44   Q7; C&AG's Report, para 2.64 Back

45   Qs 7, 36-37 Back

46   Qs 6, 279 Back

47   C&AG's Report, para 9 Back

48   Q7 Back

49   Q13 Back

50   Q17 Back

51   C&AG's Report, para 20 Back

52   Q22 Back

53   Q12 Back

54   C&AG's Report, para 29 Back

55   Qs 80, 204 Back

56   Q137 Back

57   Qs 139-140 Back

58   Qs 196, 198-199 Back

59    Q7; C&AG's Report, para 2.44 Back

60    Government Accounting.  Back

61    Qs 24, 28-29 Back

62    Ev, Appendix 3, pp 35-40 Back

63   Ev, Appendix 1, pp 33-34 Back

64   Ev, Appendix 2, pp 35-40 Back

65   Q319 Back

66   C&AG's Report, para 3.15 Back

67   Q320 Back

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