BusinessCompany NewsA lesson in how not to run a show

A lesson in how not to run a show

Back in January 2000, Accountancy Age revealed that every item in the Millennium Dome, right down to the last lightbulb, had been coded to improve security and support its accounting system. What high hopes we had then for the financial management of a project conceived to emulate the scale and stature of the 1951 Festival of Britain.

Link: Dome chiefs face summons

Fast forward three-and-a-half years and today, the Dome is in the dock.

But whatever the outcome of the charges laid this week against directors of the New Millennium Experience Company, there won’t be many people close to the project glad to see the spotlight shone once again on its finances.

Forget the cabbies’ argument – that no one really wanted a big tent and that the vast sums put up for it would have been better spent on building hospitals. And yes, visitor numbers were not as high as hoped for. The bottom line is that once the Dome was up and running, a better job should have been made of its management and the controlling of its finances.

Confirmation of that, if it were needed, came in the verdict issued at the tail end of 2000 by the National Audit Office. The damning report didn’t blame particular parties but highlighted inadequate financial controls as a major cause of its difficulties. ‘The financial management was not robust,’ said NAO director Jeremy Coleman with some understatement.

Should this matter so long after the event? Well, yes. The failure in financial management is so significant due to the level of public/lottery money used to prop it up. In the face of the severe shortfall in the company’s revenue (caused by a drop in paying visitor numbers from a forecast 12 million to 4.5 million), during the year 2000 the Millennium Commission approved four additional grants totalling £179m. The amount of grant funding increased from £399m to £628m, some 57%.

In the course of all this the NMEC lost a chief executive and accounting officer, an FD and a chairman. That explains the loss of focus and continuity, although it is hard to excuse it. The future of the site may now look more secure, but if the Dome is to have a lasting legacy, perhaps it should be as a study of how not to run the finances of a major public project.

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