Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
WEDNESDAY 31 JANUARY 2001
80. You gave us some very confusing answers
and I should just like to get the facts on record because I am
not certain you have made this clear. When you were originally
asked by the Chairman whether or not the figures which had been
given to you depended upon the pricing, you said no. Then said
that MORI had told you that if the price had been £7 the
figures would have been lower. Then you seemed to change your
mind and then you changed your mind again. What is the situation?
Did MORI tell you that if the pricing was higher than the £5
that visitor figures would reduce?
(Mr Wilson) Yes, they did.
81. They did.
(Mr Wilson) Yes. That was what I was
trying to say both times and I apologise if it was not clear.
82. So we have got that clear. In effect, you
actually ignored the advice from MORI.
(Mr Wilson) Yes; in that sense.
83. You were doomed to failure then, were you
not? What is the point of employing a consultant who clearly tells
you that if you overcharge, the figures will be reduced when you
openly admit now that you ignored the advice. It just seems totally
(Mr Wilson) I understand the point. May
I try to explain? We had that research produced and the other
research I was talking about and that formed one of the bases
of Schroders placement documents to the private sector. We then
handed over that responsibility for taking account of that to
the private sector. They then had to put together their business
plans and try to make it work. Mr O'Boyle has already said that
he subsequently asked for a considerable amount of other advice
from consultants which was not exactly the same advice as MORI
had given us. He then had to make the choice about which one he
was going to believe and go for.
84. This is just rubbish, frankly. Here you
were, employing MORI to give you advice. When they actually gave
you the advice you ignored it. You now try to pass the blame onto
RAI and say it was their responsibility because they were running
it. Mr O'Boyle made a statement that even though the numbers were
still declining, considerably declining, and we can see from the
chart that they went from 360,000 down to nearly 200,000, you
saidagain I might be wrongthat you were still prepared
to take the advice of the consultants before the project had even
opened. Even though, here it was, jumping up in your face, smacking
you in the mouth that the number of visitors was declining because
the cost was too high, yet you went on your own merry way.
(Mr O'Boyle) The exit surveys showed
us explicitly that three quarters of the visitors said it was
excellent value for money.
85. After they had come out.
(Mr O'Boyle) After they had come out.
We also commissioned an MEW survey after opening, which was independent
of the environment and still that showed a positive value for
money test. What we also found quite clearly was an innovative
way of pricing. We offered a £4.95 winter price off peak
in 1998. We had a peak price for peak periods and we had an offpeak
price of £4.95. The headline price was £7.95, a whole
range of discounts was in place and we had a £4.95 price
for the winter. It did not change the numbers.
86. No, because the price has not even come
down, it is the same at £4.95; you are saying to visitors
that it will cost them £5.
(Mr O'Boyle) It was £4.95 in 1998.
We took it down to £4.95 in the winter.
87. What the prices were in 1998 is irrelevant.
The fact of the matter was that you were not getting any visitors
in, yet you still did not decrease the prices. What would you
have to charge to break even?
(Mr O'Boyle) I will answer that by saying
we had to get to 345,000 visitors. We drove the break-even point
down to 345,000.
88. At what cost?
(Mr O'Boyle) Assuming the same per capita
89. So basically you had to get 350,000 people
(Mr O'Boyle) Yes.
90. Even when it was going down to 200,000 you
still did nothing about it. I shall tell you why you did nothing
about it: because the taxpayer was going to come in and bail you
out, that is why.
(Mr O'Boyle) We did not actually.
91. You had a very good idea.
(Mr O'Boyle) We did not.
92. It was a bit like First World War generals,
was it not, sending the troops over the top and it did not really
matter because at the end of the day the taxpayer would come and
bail you out. We are told in the report at paragraph 1.48, that
there were disagreements between RAI and the Royal Armouries over
RAI's attempts to boost income. What were the disagreements?
(Mr Wilson) They are laid out in paragraph
93. You tell me.
(Mr Wilson) The sort of areas where we
were having disagreements were ticket pricing, which we have dealt
with quite a lot in this hearing, the approach to marketing has
been mentioned as well. It was those sorts of issues, the issues
we have been talking about, the issues which were of fundamental
importance to the future of the museum, and we all knew it, were
where we sometimes had differing views. That does not surprise
me. We had differing views within an organisation about those
sorts of important issues when times are tough. We did have some
differences of view. We were concerned all the way through with
the pricing policy which had been introduced. We knew why it had
been introduced but we were concerned about it and Mr O'Boyle
knew that. We were concerned about some aspects of the marketing
and concerned about the exhibition programme and we discussed
those things. Ultimately it was Mr O'Boyle's responsibility to
his shareholders to do the best he could. We discussed them and
we agreed when we could.
94. Responsibility to his shareholders; not
to the taxpayer, to the shareholders.
(Mr Wilson) Mr O'Boyle's responsibility
was to his shareholders, yes. My responsibility is to the taxpayer.
95. We have all received a letter and sometimes
if you have letters sent to you you think it is perhaps some disgruntled
person and you get disgruntled people all the time. Frankly after
some of the answers which have been given this afternoon when
you read this letter you begin to wonder whether or not in fact
perhaps some of the accusations which have been made are pretty
accurate. For example, the letter says that the Armouries' future
has been jeopardised due to mismanagement, especially when those
concerned have been warned right from the very start that their
plans were unlikely to work, their attitudes were patronising
and their ideas uninspiring and unexciting. There is somebody
who has written and complained. I must admit, listening to some
of the responses I have had this afternoon, I tend to wonder whether
this person has not got a point. Here we are, MORI was telling
you that your numbers would reduce if you did not decrease your
price. You took no notice of that. Apparently the support group
was telling you exactly the same things and you were just ignoring
everybody's advice. That does not give us a lot of confidence
to accept some of the things you are telling us this afternoon,
(Mr Wilson) I can understand that. I
can, however, assure you that the support group made no such comment,
there were two people in the support group from whom you may have
had letters, certainly from one of the two people, who took that
view. It was not the view of the support group as a whole.
96. But they were right, were they not?
(Mr O'Boyle) May I pick up on the visitor
experience? It is important to look at the round. In 1996 we were
Group Attraction of the Year, a national award. In 1997 we were
Visitor Attraction of the Year for Yorkshire. In 1997 we were
Museum of the Year, highly commended. In 1998 National Museum
of the Year, Good Guide to Britain. In 1998 we received the top
Outstanding Award from the United States for Themed Entertainment.
Ninety-five per cent of our visitors said they had a wonderful
day out. We are talking about something which is a very, very
97. When we asked the same questions of Mr Young
regarding the Dome, we got virtually the same answer that 95 per
cent of the people who came out of the Dome said they had had
a very good day. The fact of the matter was that not enough people
were going in to have a good day. That was the problem. You should
have been asking people before they went in what the pricing policy
should be, not after they had come out and spent their fivers.
They are hardly going to say that they were mugs to pay the £5
to go in in the first place. May I turn to the Treasury because
they also have a lot to answer for, do they not? This puts the
whole of PFI in jeopardy, does it not, really?
(Mr Glicksman) No, I do not think so.
98. Let me explain why I think that. I have
a £90 million hospital being built under PFI. What happens
if it goes bust? What is going to happen? Will it close?
(Mr Glicksman) I do not know the terms
of the deal in that particular case. It is the current guidance
that risks which have to be retained in the public sector should
be retained in the public sector. If there is a risk that the
hospital would collapse, that the hospital would have to close,
that is a risk which the public sector cannot afford to happen,
then it must keep that in the public sector.
99. Exactly. So the taxpayer will come in and
bail it out as they have done here. Who loses out? The taxpayer
every time. You have not lost out, have you?
(Mr O'Boyle) Shareholders have lost their
5 Note: See Evidence, Appendix 1, page 21 (PAC 2000-2001/153). Back