HC Deb 25 May 2000 vol 350 cc581-2W
Mr. Ian Stewart

To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport if the Millennium Commission has any further plans to provide financial support to the Millennium Experience at Greenwich; and if he will make a statement. [124339]

Mr. Chris Smith

On 22 May the Millennium Commission considered an application for additional grant totalling £38.6 million from the New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC). While the Commission had serious reservations about providing further grant, they concluded that it would be foolish to withdraw support when the best of the year for visitor attractions is yet to come. They also felt that the value of the Dome as the centrepiece of the nation's millennium celebrations should be recognised and continued. The potential costs to the public sector arising from immediate closure, along with the economic impact on employment and tourism were other factors taken into account.

In light of this, the Commission announced that a further grant of £29 million, subject to stringent conditions, would be made available to NMEC. The Commission's decision was taken after an independent review of the NMEC's financial systems and business plans. The conditions are that there should be: strengthening and restructuring of NMEC's management and governance; a revised business plan showing substantial additional cost savings and enhanced marketing plans; and an enhanced financial team at NMEC, to be joined by a dedicated member of the Millennium Commission's own financial staff.

All the Millennium Commissioners expressed confidence in NMEC's Chief Executive, P-Y Gerbeau, and are appreciative of the changes he has made to the operation and running of the Millennium Experience.

Despite lower than predicted visitor numbers, the Dome is the most popular and highly rated paid visitor attraction in the UK, with a wide range of educational benefits. NMEC is also running a National Programme of events and activities across the UK. In addition, the largest derelict site in southern England has been regenerated and the foundations have been laid for a lasting legacy providing jobs and homes for thousands of people.

In line with the commitment made by the previous administration that any additional Lottery funds required to support the Dome should not be at the expense of the Millennium Commission's wider programme of work, the Government confirmed that Lottery money would, if necessary, be made available to the Commission to ensure that it's wider programme does not suffer.