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Lord Dubs: My Lords, nevertheless there is an element of personal attack on my noble and learned friend which I believe is inappropriate. It is not justified by the facts, but only by party political rhetoric coming from the other side of the House.
Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord is a much admired, even a loved, Member of this House. He is one of the most effective Members of the Government Front Bench. I regret very much that, with others, I have had to criticise some of his actions and policies as regards this matter. But he is the responsible Minister and I do not believe that even he would wish to duck that particular point.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, he is not ducking it. I have listened carefully and read in Hansard the comments made by my noble and learned friend. I have also listened to his opening speech. He is not ducking his responsibilities at all. It is a little mischievous to suggest that he is. He is taking the valid criticisms on the chin, but he has no reason to take on the chin criticisms which are not valid and which should be directed at those on the other side of the House who made the decisions when the Conservatives were in government.
I turn to a more positive note. There are many lessons to be learnt and perhaps I may pick on three. The first is the better forecasting of numbers. Clearly, had the forecast for the number of visitors been 6 million we would all be celebrating a success, but because the forecast was 12 million, people say that the project has not succeeded. Frankly, at the outset a figure of 6 million visitors would have been a successful achievement for the Dome. We would have all said that that was a good sign of popular support, as indeed it was.
The second point I wish to make in terms of lessons to be learnt is this. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister made the point some little while ago that there is a difficulty for governments in knowing how far at arm's length they should be from important projects. I fear that governments tend to get too close to projects when they should keep further away.
My third point concerns the system that was set up by the previous government and continued by this Government. I have a feeling that there has not been quite the clarity of departmental responsibility that there might have been as between the DCMS and other departments of government. Had there been, it may have been easier to manage as things went on.
Above all--and I finish with the point with which I began--the project was exciting and showed vision. We should not be churlish about something which history will judge as being more positive than some of the speeches made today.
Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, criticised my noble and learned friend for being over the top. I shall begin my speech with my criticism of my noble and learned friend. If I have any criticism of him at all, it is for his excessive equanimity and courtesy in the light of the unnecessary, politically motivated and quite outrageous attacks that have been made upon him, not only in this House but in another place, over far too long a period of time.
The National Audit Office report has been seriously misquoted by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. I challenge him to show where it talks about "spending money with gay abandon". However, the report performs a singular service by giving a precise genesis of the Dome project. The Greenwich project--selected, as we all know, in February 1996--was quite clearly chosen for two purposes: because of its historic association with time, on the one hand, and the regenerative capacity of the project on the other. Those objectives were quite clear; they were there from the start and they were realised in the Dome project.
Greenwich never was selected by the previous government as an objective choice on the basis of the adequacy of its funding, its clear coherent business plan or its economic viability. If those had been the bases of choice, the previous government would have been forced to choose the alternative Birmingham project. I do not criticise them for not choosing it. However, they chose the Greenwich project for clearly political rather than economic reasons. To its credit, Birmingham did not do anything to rubbish the Greenwich project, although it felt a deep sense of grievance at the partisan nature of the discussion when there had been the pretence of an open competition based on proper financial viability. Were there to have been that choice, this debate would not be taking place.
Clearly the Dome has not been a success. It has not been the success it was stated it was going to be in a number of respects. To that end, we should heed very clearly the sound advice of the noble Lord, Lord Sharman, and my noble friend Lord Grabiner, in relation to the basis on which the public sector should get involved in projects where the private sector has decided that there is not a sufficient basis of viability for it to get involved.
From the initial conception of the Dome, the forecasts of visitor numbers were wildly wrong. A target of 10 million became 10.9 million to 16 million; then it was reduced to 13.5 million. Those targets were set on 18th January 1996, February 1996 and 11th December 1996. They were acknowledged by the person who created those targets as being "all over the place". Those are the words of Mr Peter Ainsworth. When he was talking about the inaccuracy of his estimates he described them as being "all over the place", but now, as the Front Bench spokesman in another place, he seems to want to wash his hands more thoroughly than Pontius Pilate could manage to do.
If the Government have made any major error of judgment in relation to the saga of the Dome it is that they trusted members of the previous government. They believed their words of commitment and accepted that they could be relied upon to act with honour. That was the decision made by the Official Opposition, at the behest of the previous government, to guarantee the continuity of the project. Events concerning the Dome have shown that the official spokespersons of the Conservative Party have proved themselves to be totally untrustworthy, unreliable and with no sense of honour in respect of the agreements that were made with them when they were in government.
The record is clear. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, listed the decisions that were the responsibility of the previous government, from the decision to build the Dome right through to the decision to use lottery money on the basis of the business plan on which those lottery funds were committed. "Hypocrisy" and "hypocritical" are much over-used words in what sometimes purports to be political debate. In the saga of the Dome over recent months, some of the people who have participated in what seems like an increasingly frequent and politically motivated vendetta against the noble and learned Lord, Lord
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer has behaved with total integrity in relation to the public and to the House. He has pursued the project that was created by the previous government and followed by this government at the behest of the previous Conservative administration. My noble and learned friend has earned the support of your Lordships' House. He deserves that support. As far as I and my noble friends are concerned, he will continue to receive it.
Lord Jacobs: My Lords, with hindsight it is always too easy to make penetrating comments about what should or should not have been done to make the Dome a success. I shall confine my remarks mainly to what I believe were the mistakes made when the Dome project was launched.
I seem to be one of a rapidly diminishing band of supporters of the Dome project at its commencement. Now, many people seemed to be certain that the Dome project would fail, but apparently were silent at the time of its launch. My own confidence in the Dome evaporated rapidly when I discovered, to my astonishment, that there was no clear idea of what was go inside it. It was never suggested that the Dome would be an architectural marvel sufficient to draw millions of visitors--although I must agree that it is an exceptional building architecturally. Clearly, the attraction had to be based on what was inside.
It appears that the originators of the concept did not even consider the possibility that, without the right attractions, the Dome could never succeed. It is like a successful industrialist deciding to build the most modern or futuristic factory in a development area such as Tyneside, and when the question is posed as to what the factory will produce, responding that he will work that out in the fullness of time. No entrepreneur would adopt such a course. Yet the creators of the Dome saw nothing unusual in not having decided what would go inside it. It seems that they believed that the concept was strong enough to stand alone even if the contents were of no great merit or attraction.
Let us consider for a moment why the Great Exhibition of 1851 was such a success. For the three preceding years, public consultations were held in all the main cities of Britain to discover what people wanted to see in the exhibition. The consultations were led by no less than Prince Albert and Sir Robert Peel. Perhaps in our time, the Duke of Edinburgh and Mr Prescott--who are renowned for their diplomatic skills--could have carried out a similar public consultation.
In one sense the Dome project was a success, for it came within 5 per cent of its budget. So the usual complaint that the Government and civil servants can never manage capital projects successfully has been refuted in this case. But that is not to say that they are equipped to manage operational businesses on a day-to-day basis.
Where, then, did the project go wrong, apart from the obvious failure to make an attraction so exciting that vast numbers of people would demand to visit it? One can fairly compare the Dome project with another millennium project, the Tate Modern on Bankside. The Tate has the good fortune to be managed, directed and led by Sir Nicholas Serota--whose mother sits on the government Benches--who, in addition to having great artistic skills and judgment, is an exceptionally talented chief executive. That is one of the reasons why the Tate Modern has become a world-wide success. The Tate project cost just £234 million, of which only £70 million was public money, compared with the £600 million or £700 million that the Dome has cost.
Everyone in the UK knew that the Dome would be open for just 12 months. The public could not, therefore, delay their visit. The Dome secured 3 million visitors in its first seven months of operation, while the Tate Modern--which should be open for the next 200 years--secured 3½ million visitors in the first seven months after opening.
One can argue that entry to the Tate is free. That is true. On the other hand, in one year of operation the Dome has needed a subsidy of £179 million to cover its operating losses. As entry to the Tate is free, it has been granted an annual subsidy of £6 million, which, regrettably, is not sufficient. Those who run the Tate will no doubt be on their hands and knees begging for an additional sum, which I am informed is about £2 million a year. For me, that puts the whole Dome project in perspective. One can be sure that the Tate's claim for an extra £2 million will be examined rigorously, and probably argued over, while the Millennium Dome unfortunately burnt £179 million in more or less the blink of an eyelid.
Content is clearly important, but there are other factors. Location is also of vital importance. The decision--no doubt made for the usual environmental reasons--that access to the Dome would be by train or boat rather than by car or coach would very likely have caused a significant drop in visitors, particularly in the numbers from up north. The cost of travelling was an important factor for visitors to the Dome. It would have been immensely encouraging if they could have embarked on a coach in their local town and emerged from it at the entrance to the Dome. Disembarking from a coach in London and then going on by Underground is not a very attractive proposition, particularly for families with children--not to mention the difficulty for disabled people. I say nothing of the number who would have come by car or taxi.
Alton Towers, the most successful comparable project in Britain, has parking spaces for 3,000 cars and 300 coaches. Alton Towers is a commercial operation which understands what is necessary to maximise the number of visitors. Its average daily attendance amounts to 12,000 visitors, but for special events it receives up to 25,000 visitors.
A great deal has been said about the estimate for the number of visitors to the Dome, which ranged between 8 million and 17 million. As one who has examined numerous commercial projects, I have invariably
Everyone connected with the Dome project will deny with their last breath that that was how a particular estimate for the number of visitors was chosen. Yet if one looks at other millennium projects one finds that the estimate for total revenue is always sufficient to cover the costs. Unless that is the case, they do not get the money. That is when the estimates are prepared. However, when a millennium project then incurs a huge loss, it will be found immediately that the number of visitors will have fallen well below the estimate. Just look at the Armoury in Leeds.
One may well ask why the lower estimate of 8 million was not chosen--even though it turned out that this was significantly above the actual numbers. The answer is to be found in the arithmetic. If 8 million was considered to be the likely number of visitors, the project would be making a loss; the whole project would be in jeopardy and the Dome might have been stopped in mid-stream. That was politically unacceptable.
There is no getting away from this issue; and it arises from the absence of professional commercial management. If professional management, such as those who run Madame Tussauds and Alton Towers, or even a company such as Bechtel, had been engaged for a fair fee but a very large bonus if the project did not make a loss, there would have been some very hard-headed analysis as to likely visitor numbers and no doubt other changes such as improvements in transport arrangements. However, I think it is fair to point out that, had that course been followed, the Government would have been faced with the reality of the situation--which was that it would have been impossible for the Dome to complete one year of operation without making a huge loss. So presumably the project would not have been completed. As usual, politics wins the day, and, the UK citizens pick up the bill by using lottery money to make good the losses rather than use such money for improvement of amenities elsewhere in the country.
I do not believe that governments or civil servants understand the reality of the difference between a commercially operated project which has to try to make a profit, or at worst break even, and a government-operated project for which there is in reality unlimited funding. Sadly, very few politicians have business experience and probably even fewer civil servants. No doubt everyone is claiming that lessons can be drawn from the calamity that befell the Dome.
However, I should like to end on a slightly more cheerful note. I believe that the Dome project has been a very exciting one; indeed, in many ways it has been worth while. If the lessons that I enumerated can be drawn from the experience and changes are made when we are faced with similar projects in the future, then it will be doubly worth while.
Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: My Lords, if I had a title to my speech tonight it would be, "Voices from Greenwich". I have spoken on the subject of the Dome on a number of occasions in your Lordships' House and I am pleased to do so again, to give a positive approach to the Dome experience and to the future.
Before the Dome was built, the Greenwich peninsula was certainly very derelict and, as such, it reflected how run-down the whole area had become. But, more importantly, it reflected in its dereliction the lack of hope and opportunity experienced by many of those living in the area. Today the regeneration of Greenwich and of the wider Thames Gateway, as well as the development of the peninsula, are acting as a genuine catalyst for additional business, development and enthusiastic support for Greenwich and its residents.
We have heard much of the regeneration of the area and I shall not repeat what has been said. However, in relation to the river, as well developments already mentioned, I should like to emphasise that there has been a start on the infrastructures for water front transit. Two miles of the river front has been opened up to the public, the Cutty Sark Gardens have been greatly improved and an innovative river terracing scheme has been established.
The developments in the area have already provided 9,000 jobs in construction and over 6,000 jobs in other areas of work, as well as work in the Dome itself. This has benefited, in particular, younger and older workers, people with disabilities and those who have either not worked previously or not worked for many years. Many of them are young black people who are now training for future careers, rather than just gaining jobs. Employment has already been halved from its 1994 level and, for the first time in a generation, the job gap is closing between Greenwich and the rest of London.
All that has happened because of the Dome. This is recognised in Greenwich. In giving oral evidence to the Select Committee in June, Bob Harris, lead executive member for regeneration on Greenwich Council, said:
There has been a lot of what my father would have described as "bunkum" talked about the Dome, which began even before it was completed. Indeed, it has become almost a national sport to attack it. And not always, but often, the attacks come from those who have never been anywhere near the Dome and are even hazy about where it is actually situated. I am sorry that those noble Lords who visited the Dome did not enjoy it, but I am pleased to say that they are in the minority. A staggering 88 per cent of people enjoy their Dome day, and that figure rises to 94 per cent when the millennium show is discussed. Moreover, 73 per cent of visitors think it good value for money, and 79 per cent would recommend others to visit it.
What a pity that those statistics have not been stressed, rather than the constant "moaning Minnie" attitude illustrated by many who should know better. Currently, discussions are taking place with the staff of the Dome to ensure their future--an action that I am sure everyone in this House welcomes. Recruitment advice sessions and open days are being held with advisors from Jobnet, aimed at securing redeployment opportunities for staff of all grades, ages and skills. The new bidders for the Dome are also playing their part. Legacy plc aims to spend a further £125 million developing the site and is set to create thousands of new jobs. It will be a high-tech business at the forefront of developments of the 21st century economy.
I can tell the House that the people working at the Dome and the local authority, the Greenwich Borough Council, as well as many people who live in the area, have no doubts about the building of the Dome in Greenwich. Indeed, many of the workers are both bewildered and hurt by the constant carping against the Dome, which has fed and fuelled the vitriolic press outbursts against it.
I can also tell the House that there is a great deal of anger in Greenwich about the Conservative Party's attitude to the Dome. The blame for many of the Dome's problems is being laid fairly and squarely at the door of those who have deliberately encouraged and taken part in the bad publicity for the Dome. That is not the Government and it is certainly not my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer, whose commitment to working for and supporting the Dome and its workforce has been second to none. Indeed, the recent involvement of Legacy plc with the Dome is seen by many Greenwich residents as yet one more positive step that my noble and learned friend the Minister has taken.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I believe that I speak more or less at the mid-point of this debate. Therefore, I intend to be brief, which will no doubt be a relief to all noble Lords. As my noble friend Lady Gibson pointed out, it has been fashionable throughout this year to run down the Millennium Dome. I believe that that is part of a wider disease in this country, which means that we are dismissive of anything new or different.
The Dome had a difficult opening and it did not help its subsequent coverage in the media that so many distinguished--and perhaps a number of not-so distinguished--newspaper editors and columnists, media moguls and other assorted opinion-formers had excessive waits for security clearance at Stratford Underground station. But the Dome was also subjected to a lot of negative sniping in advance of that from those MPs and others who did not believe that the country's celebration of the millennium should be centred on London. Indeed, the same people seem to object to anything being based in the capital city.
I have to say that I am saddened by the anti-London attitudes in the rest of the United Kingdom. After all, London is our capital city. It is the capital for everyone in the country as well as Londoners. We should all be proud of it and not try to knock it or starve it of funds. The Dome debate outside your Lordships' House has been coloured by the many anti-London voices who think that London gets too much. Indeed, we heard something similar in a few of today's contributions.
It is sad that so many politicians from outside London find it difficult to celebrate the Dome, the new Tate Modern or the Globe Theatre. These are national monuments--achievements of which everyone in the country should be proud. Yet those who knock London cannot accept it if anyone suggests that their areas are less than perfect, however much the remarks are made tongue in cheek. Today, for example, I find myself attacked in the Evening Standard by the former Lord Mayor of Birmingham for saying that I am a fan of this great capital city of ours. I subscribe to Dr Johnson's view: if you are tired of London, you are tired of life. Admittedly, I went on to say that I also subscribe to his lesser known dictum that if you are tired of Birmingham, you are absolutely right--
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