HC Deb 01 June 1998 vol 313 cc13-5
27. Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

What allowance has been made for cost overruns in his estimates of expenditure on the millennium experience. [42014]

The Minister without Portfolio (Mr. Peter Mandelson)

The project has a cash budget of £758 million. Within that, there is a prudent cost contingency provision of £88 million, which is subject to tight control and regular monitoring by the New Millennium Experience Company. The project, my hon. Friend will be pleased to hear, is on time and on budget.

Mr. Mitchell

I am delighted that my hon. Friend has time to be concerned at the looming problem. There is always a danger that, if there were no purpose, one could be bought for the project by throwing money at the problem. Is he as concerned as I am at the report by Rowan Moore in last week's Evening Standard of delays, major cost overruns, a lack of sponsorship and private contributions, and a failure to have a central purpose down at the folks' dome? All those looming problems will have to be compensated for by the lottery, draining even more money from the arts, education, health, sport and charities, unless they are tackled.

Mr. Mandelson

The article to which my hon. Friend refers—I gather—is almost entirely unsourced, unchecked and untrue. Money is not being thrown at a problem—far from it. I would have thought that he would be rather more optimistic considering today's news and would be congratulating the New Millennium Experience Company, which has announced with Marks and Spencer, yet another founding partner of the millennium experience, the launch of Children's Promise.

The Government have always believed that the millennium experience should be a truly national event and provide a lasting legacy. I cannot think of a better way in which to fulfil both those conditions than to organise for everyone to give their last hour's salary in this millennium to help children in need in the next millennium. That is what is being launched today. It represents precisely the purpose and values that are embodied in the theme of the millennium experience and the dome—a time to make a difference, which it certainly will be.

Mr. Norman Baker (Lewes)

What will happen if there is a shortfall—I hope that there will not be—in funding from sponsors? Will the proposals for the dome be scaled down, will further money be taken from the lottery or will the taxpayer be further called on?

Mr. Mandelson

I have every confidence that the New Millennium Experience Company will raise the necessary funds. Nearly £100 million is already committed and confirmed in the form of private sector sponsorship. That is nearly £100 million of a target set for the end of this year of £150 million. That is what we have gathered since February. I have every confidence that 12 million or more people will want to visit the dome, and that the company's income target from visitors is equally realistic. I do not think that the problem to which the hon. Gentleman refers will arise.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk)

The hon. Gentleman hyped up surfball as the new 21st century sport for the dome. Did cost overruns cause its mysterious disappearance, or was there a fabrication about a non-existent game? Was not the hon. Gentleman guilty of talking complete and utter surfballs?

Mr. Mandelson

The reshuffle beckons, Madam Speaker. The serious play zone, to which the hon. Gentleman refers, will include explanations of the world of sport and games in the 21st century. It will cover the sort of 21st century game for which the term "surfball" was an illustrative title.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

Will my hon. Friend keep careful track of the point when the Jeremiahs and detractors of the millennium experience and the dome suddenly and quietly become enthusiasts? My hon. Friend will know that, increasingly, businesses throughout the country—not just Marks and Spencer, which has today announced the £12 million Children's Promise—see the project not only as a way in which to show the best of British work, skills and products, but as an opportunity to benefit from tourism and travel, as people from all over Europe and the world will come to make this a profitable exercise for UK plc.

Mr. Mandelson

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is because of the enormous progress that we have made during the last year that so many companies and organisations are flocking to the millennium dome to invest and to take part in the project.

We should recall what we have achieved during the past year. The dome is now firmly established on London's skyline and the roofing material is going on over the steel girders right on schedule. Young British-based designers are working hard to ensure that we have contents as inspiring as the building in which they are to be housed. We have five founding partners, each contributing £12 million to the millennium experience. The fifth of these, Marks and Spencer, was announced this morning.

The New Millennium Experience Company has let 24 main trade contracts, 23 to companies based in the UK. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has launched plans for the millennium village at Greenwich and for new riverbus services to open up the Thames. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has launched the nationwide millennium festival. We have ensured that the dome will have a long and productive life, and will not be torn down after one year, as was originally planned by the previous Government.

In short, we have turned the vision of the previous Government into firm foundations for a unique event which will bring the entire country together. It will inspire us and will make a real difference to our well-being, socially, spiritually and economically.

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