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30 Nov 2000 : Column WA155

Written Answers

Thursday, 30th November 2000.

NMEC: Solvency

Baroness Seccombe asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action has been taken by the Lord Falconer of Thoroton in his capacity as Minister and as shadow director of the New Millennium Experience Company to comply with the advice given by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) at page 39 of their Project Mozart presentation that shadow directors "must be on notice and need to take urgent action to address the position after taking appropriate legal and commercial advice" in light of the PWC's statement at page 39 that "There is clear evidence to suggest that NMEC is currently insolvent."[HL4134]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): Any action I may take in relation to the New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC) I take in my role as shareholder, and I am not on the board of directors. As shareholder I have been kept informed of issues as they have arisen. The PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report was submitted to the Board of NMEC on 22 August. The board noted the PwC view, and took expert advice about the company's solvency position at the end of August. As a result they considered that there was a real prospect of further funding to enable the company to ensure ongoing solvency. This was found to be the correct course of action as on 5 September the commission approved a grant of £47 million to the NMEC which secured NMEC's ongoing solvency.

Baroness Blatch asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Millennium Dome's New Millennium Experience Company has, at any time, traded while insolvent; and, if so, which periods.[HL4159]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report, which was presented to the NMEC board on 22 August and is now in the Libraries of the House, costed the liabilities of the company and indicated that there were periods of insolvency throughout the year.

The effect of Section 214 of the Insolvency Act 1986 can be to make it proper for a company's directors to continue to trade, even though the company may technically be insolvent at a given time, if there is a reasonable prospect that they may be able to introduce sufficient funds to correct the insolvency and thereby eliminate any risk to creditors.

The NMEC board and its directors secured additional grant from the Millennium Commission in February, May, August and September 2000.

30 Nov 2000 : Column WA156

Baroness Anelay of St Johns asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the statement by Lord Falconer of Thoroton on 5 October (H.L. Deb., col. 1684) that "discussions are taking place to finalise how the other pre-condition will be achieved, but they are almost there", whether those discussions have now been completed; and whether, as a consequence, the pre-condition imposed by the Millennium Commission on a grant of £47 million on 4 September that that amount represented the last draw-down from the Millennium Commission is now in place.[HL4237]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The Government are currently considering the best process and vehicle to deal with any potential residual and contingent liabilities arising from the Millennium Experience. However, the grant of £47 million awarded by the Millennium Commission to the New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC) was to ensure an orderly wind-down of the company. The board of NMEC are confident that a solvent solution will be achieved within the current level of grant.

Millennium Dome Site: Sale

Baroness Anelay of St Johns asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Falconer of Thoroton on 20 November (WA 61), whether any request has been made to Legacy plc by the Government for a portion of the sale price of the Dome site to be paid prior to the signing of the contracts; whether Legacy plc has agreed to such a request; and whether there is an agreement that such a sum will be repaid to Legacy plc in the event that outstanding contractual issues cannot be resolved satisfactorily within an agreed timetable.[HL4745]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The details of contractual issues are being pursued in negotiations between the competition team and Legacy plc. Details of the proposed overall financial consideration for the sale of the Dome to Legacy plc must remain commercially confidential at this stage. The arrangements for Legacy plc to acquire the Dome will include a cash consideration on exchange of contracts and a further cash consideration on completion of the sale.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Falconer of Thoroton on 20 November (WA 61), what is the sum offered by Legacy plc for the purchase of the Dome site and accepted by the Government as the basis for the award to Legacy plc of the preferred bidder status; and[HL4744]

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    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Falconer of Thoroton on 20 November (WA 61), what are the outstanding contractual issues which must be resolved before contracts can be signed with Legacy plc for the sale of the Dome site.[HL4746]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: There are a number of contractual issues, including purchase price, which will form part of the current negotiations currently taking place between Legacy plc and the competition team. The details of these negotiations are commercially confidential.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Falconer of Thoroton on 20 November (WA 61), which body or bodies will regularly monitor the progress of the negotiations for the sale of the Dome site to Legacy plc; and to which Minister or Ministers the reports on such progress will be made.[HL4747]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The negotiations with Legacy plc will be undertaken by the competition team, and overseen by officials from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR), the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Cabinet Office and HM Treasury. Regular reports will be made to the ministerial team, which includes the Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Falconer, Minister of State at Cabinet Office and Shareholder of the New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC), Andrew Smith, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Hilary Armstrong, Minister for Local Government and the Regions, and Janet Anderson, Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What assessment they have made of the impact of the development of the Excel site in Docklands upon the viability of the Legacy plc offer to develop the Dome site; and whether they will publish the results of that impact assessment.[HL4749]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The Excel centre in the Royal Docks and Legacy plc's proposals for the Dome are of a very different nature, one being an exhibition centre, the other a high-technology business park. The commercial and financial viability of Legacy's proposals has been evaluated by the Government's advisers. The evaluation is commercially confidential. Further development of evidence of commercial demand will be important in continued negotiations with Legacy plc.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Falconer of Thoroton on 20 November (WA 61), what action they propose to take in order to sell the Dome site in the event that the outstanding issues with Legacy plc cannot be resolved by mid-February.[HL4748]

30 Nov 2000 : Column WA158

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: English Partnerships undertook a review of alternative options for the Millennium Dome and its site while discussions were taking place between the competition team and Legacy plc. Ministers will wish to revisit that work should negotiations with Legacy plc fall.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Falconer of Thoroton on 20 November (WA 61), what advice they received that Legacy plc should not be named as the preferred bidder for the Millennium Dome; and why they rejected that advice.[HL4782]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The professional advisers to the competition team provided comprehensive advice to Ministers. This detailed advice is commercially confidential, but it concluded that Legacy plc could be awarded preferred bidder status while recommending that a number of issues should be vigorously pursued as part of any future negotiations with Legacy plc. These negotiations will continue over the coming months and the Government hope to be in a position to exchange contracts in February.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Falconer of Thoroton on 20 November (WA 61), what will be the cost of clearing attraction zones from the Millennium Dome after 31 December: and what sum has been allocated for this work within the budget of the New Millennium Experience Company as at 22 November. [HL4783]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC) is in discussion with Legacy plc with regard to the level of decommissioning required. NMEC has a budget of £7.5 million for the decommissioning. This sum is sufficient to deal with decommissioning which NMEC is obliged to undertake.


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