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Mr. Redwood rose--

Mr. Smith: Right on cue, here is the right hon. Gentleman to make more cheap political points.

Mr. Redwood: The Secretary of State gave an interesting answer earlier: he said that the company was not trading when insolvent because it had a reasonable expectation of getting more money--and, as we know, the money came from the Millennium Commission, the taxpayer and the millennium fund contributor. Is he not telling us, therefore, that the Minister was saying one thing to the company to reassure it that money would be made available, and another to Parliament, which was told that no money would be made available?

Mr. Smith: No, I do not agree with that analysis.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Smith: Yes, because it is the right hon. Lady, but this must be the last time.

Mrs. Bottomley: Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that all the public servants who have worked on the

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project bitterly resent the degree to which the Labour party has tried to party politicise the dome events? It tried to make it a glorious Sheffield rally by imposing Labour party imagery and ideology on the project--even launching it at the People's Palace, where Labour celebrated its campaign victory. A million free tickets for schoolchildren were given away in the face of advice from those within the organisation. The Labour party lost public support for the project by trying to turn it into a Labour party legacy.

Mr. Smith: No, if any party is trying to make party political capital out of the dome, it is the Conservative party.

Lord Falconer sets the strategic direction of the dome and monitors NMEC's progress against the criteria that we set it. He has been tireless in his defence of the dome and in his work to raise awareness of its achievements. He has shown leadership in standing by the dome's loyal staff, in visiting it regularly and in monitoring its progress through turbulent times. His job is an important one and he is doing it well in the teeth of enormous difficulty and flak. It is certainly not in the interests of the British people that he should resign.

Lord Falconer has never lost sight of the good things about the dome, and nor should we. Despite the undeniable problems identified by the Comptroller and Auditor General, the dome is a remarkable achievement. For a start, it is a stunning building, recognised as a great construction achievement and a triumph of British engineering for which the engineers, Buro Happold, won the prestigious Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert award, which is Britain's premier prize for engineering.

Greenwich council, which has supported the project from the outset, is proud of what it has meant to one of London's poorest boroughs--and so it should be. In less than four years, the largest track of derelict urban wasteland in Europe has been transformed into a busy, attractive place--one where people want to live, in one of the new homes in the millennium village; a place where they want to shop, in Sainsbury's new store, which has just won a national award for environmental sustainability; a place where they want to stay in the new hotel and come to enjoy themselves at the millennium dome.

Mr. Norman Baker (Lewes): Given his enthusiasm for the structure, which I share, will the Secretary of State guarantee that the millennium dome will not be bulldozed?

Mr. Smith: I very much hope that the dome will not be pulled down, but the ministerial team--which, of course, does not include me--that will determine the future legacy of the dome will have to take into account the iconic nature of the structure, the regeneration effect that it can have and the best possible return to the lottery player and taxpayer. Those considerations must be carefully balanced by the team.

The construction phase of the dome and other developments on the peninsula have created employment for 8,700 people, and 5,500 are employed in the operation. Greenwich council predicts that 30,000 permanent jobs will be created in the borough within seven years as a result of the investment on the peninsula. The council is right to be proud of all that has been achieved.

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The people who work at the dome are also proud of what they have achieved. They know that they are doing a good job because people tell them so: as I said, in a recent poll, 88 per cent. of visitors said that they had enjoyed their day at the dome and 94 per cent. that they had enjoyed the millennium show. Those satisfaction ratings are something of which to be proud, as is the fact that the dome has attracted more visitors this year than any other paying attraction in the UK: the dome's 4.5 million paying visitors to date mean that, after only 10 months, it has attracted almost twice the yearly total of visitors to the next most popular attraction, Alton Towers.

I am also proud of the dome work force--not only because of the way in which they have stood up to the trials and tribulations of the operating year, but because of the unfailing courtesy, good humour and professionalism that they have displayed throughout. Other people are also proud of the dome. Let me give just one example. Pat Nunn of Ossett in Yorkshire wrote to The Guardian on 28 October to say:

she had been listening to the hon. Member for East Surrey too much--

We must remember that the millennium celebrations are not only about the dome. The vision for celebrating the millennium includes not only capital projects, but more than 1,000 large-scale community projects throughout the UK under the umbrella of the millennium festival, and more than 12,000 awards for all so far distributed to community arts, sports, heritage and charity projects in every part of the UK. Of the 180 capital projects funded by the Millennium Commission, 90 are now complete, and two thirds of the 3,118 umbrella projects have now opened. Recent openings include "Turning the Tide", which is a wonderful project restoring England's only stretch of magnesium limestone coastline in Durham--restoring the beaches, removing coal waste and derelict structures and creating new cycle paths and walkways to enhance the area's accessibility. ECOS at Ballymena is a new 57 hectare town park and environmental visitor and education centre, which will house the Northern Ireland environmental information centre. The national wildlife centre in Liverpool is a centre for creative conservation, promoting the use of wild flowers in the wider process of regeneration.

None the less, we all need to learn the valuable lessons about the assessment and management of capital projects that the dome project has taught us, some of which are set out in the National Audit Office report. I identify four key lessons. First, adopt a clear management structure. An alternative structure to deliver the exhibition from the outset might well have achieved a different outcome. The tight time frame meant that no acceptable alternative was available for the dome, but, for the future, we know that a less complex, more directly accountable structure is probably better.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): My right hon. Friend mentions the tight time frame. Is it not absolutely remarkable that the dome building was ready on time and open when it needed to be open, on a fixed timetable? By contrast, we have the disaster of the British

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Library project, whose cost doubled and exploded and the building was not nearly ready on time--and that happened under the Conservatives.

Mr. Smith: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the remarkable achievement whereby the millennium dome was completed and made ready for opening. Everyone knew the time frame that had to be adhered to.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Smith: The second lesson is to bring in the experts. Managers with experience of running large-scale visitor attractions should have been engaged by NMEC for the operational year. All parties acknowledged that when the project was reviewed in February this year, and undoubtedly we should have recognised it.

Mrs. Bottomley: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Smith: I said to the right hon. Lady that I was giving way for the last time, but because she is so persistent, I will allow her to make another intervention.

Mrs. Bottomley: I thank the right hon. Gentleman. Does he feel able to pay credit to Jennie Page?

Mr. Smith: Yes, I am delighted to pay credit to Jennie Page for having achieved the construction of the dome by 31 December 1999 in the very efficient way in which that was done.

The third lesson is to make prudent estimates at the outset. We have already acknowledged that the initial visitor number estimates of 12 million were too high, although experts said at the time that the figure was not unrealistic. We have learned from that, and I am pleased to say that now, for every major capital project, the Millennium Commission examines the business plan and the operational expectations in detail and tests carefully whether they are correct.

The result, I am pleased to say, has been enormously successful. The Eden project is now 70 per cent. over its visitor number target. The Lowry in Salford is 54 per cent. over its target. Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh is 32 per cent. over its target. The national botanic garden of Wales is 26 per cent. over its target. The Big Idea in Irvine is 17 per cent. over its target, and @, Bristol is 11 per cent. over its target.

The fourth lesson that we need to learn concerns risk assessment and risk management. We have always recognised that the dome project was risky. My Department is now working hard to improve our performance--everyone's performance--on risk analysis, to ensure that everything possible is done to minimise risks similar to those that have arisen during the Millennium Experience project.

What I have said will, I hope, help to redress the balance of what the hon. Member for East Surrey laid before the House. I also hope that it gives him some pause

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for thought. It is easy and cheap politics to knock a project which his previous boss described in 1996 as

We shared that vision. We are, of course, sad that the visitor numbers have been lower than hoped for, but pleased that those who came have enjoyed themselves. The regeneration benefits will be felt in the area for years to come.

What we do not want to do is engage in the tawdry hypocrisy of praising something one year, damning it the next, pretending that it is nothing whatever to do with us, and failing to address the serious wider issues of governance and risk management that are genuinely thrown into the public domain by this project and by what has happened. That serious task is one that we are taking forward and will continue to take forward.

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