Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)



  100. By whom?
  (Mr James) Initially by an organisation called Economic Research Associates. That was followed by the work from Deloitte & Touche. Subsequently reports were compiled by Stoy Hayward and subsequently we in the Dome have been monitoring this through MORI projections based on customer reception levels right the way through the first half of the year.

  101. Why do you think, given that I understand Alton Towers is the most successful mass entertainment, theme-type place to visit in this country, who I believe get something in the region of 2.8 million visitors a year—
  (Mr James) Correct.

  102. Why did you think that the Dome, with the problems Mr Williams mentioned of transportation, was likely to attract significantly more people than Alton Towers?
  (Mr James) Great emphasis was placed in that assessment on the fact that this was a project which was heavily sponsored by Government and it was expected that the presence of Government's enthusiasm would be a significant factor in driving visitor interest. Also there was an add-on factor identified for the fact that it was a one-year attraction. Alton Towers was hopefully going to be there for ever from their point of view; the Dome was one year and people therefore would have added incentive to come while it was there. These factors combined together to support the figures. In fact of course we did exceed Alton Towers' record for a whole year by the time we had reached the end of July of this year.

  103. Was that right? Was that exceeded on paying visitors?
  (Mr James) Yes, that was on paying visitors.

  104. May I refer to page 17, paragraph 1.32 and the appraisal of Deloitte & Touche. As I understand it, they said that a down end estimate of numbers would be about eight million; 12 million would be much of a higher end. The Commission opted for the 12 million,[13] certainly in a contradictory way but maybe in defiance of the latest professional advisers' estimates. Why did the Commission take such a bullish view?
  (Mr James) You should ask the Commission that?
  (Mr O'Connor) The advice from Deloitte & Touche when they looked at the plans put forward by NMEC was that 12 million was achievable. They did not say it was unachievable, they said it was at the upper end of what was achievable.

  105. But anything is achievable including flying to the moon.
  (Mr O'Connor) No. You could then say that 24 or 50 million is achievable. When they said achievable: looking at plans which NMEC had put forward and all the consultancy reports which had been done, they believed that 12 million was achievable.

  106. They also said that eight million was the worst case. Why did they decide to take "achievable" rather than err on the side of caution and the eight million figure?
  (Mr O'Connor) Because they had in mind what had been achieved with similar exhibitions elsewhere.

  107. But not in Britain.
  (Mr O'Connor) The expos and the fact that even in 1951 the Festival of Britain with six months opening, with a smaller population, people with less money, worse transport arguably—

  108. I cannot let you get away with that. The Dome is quite difficult to get to.
  (Mr O'Connor)—achieved 8.5 million in six months. So the idea that 12 million, as Deloittes said, was achievable, was one they supported.

  109. Can we go onto the content of the Dome? What advance work was done to identify what should go in the Dome?
  (Mr James) Consultants[14] were brought in in order to devise an overall structure of content and then a number of designers were briefed to come up competitively with individual designs which might fill the expectation. So there was in fact a necessary and deliberate duplication of the design work in order to see what would come and the best combination to fill the content.

  110. You talked earlier of what I described at the Great and the Good being asked, almost it seemed on an informal ad hoc basis to advise or put their tuppence worth in. Do you think that is a particularly good way to move forward? Did the Dome benefit from their advice?
  (Mr James) I think it was probably a very sensible move for the board to do it. The board became very closely involved in the process themselves and although they were non-executive directors, they generously gave of their time and participated in this, including in some cases adopting the so-called role of godfathers to individual zones to see them through. It was a very participatory process and it necessarily had to bring in skills which the board recognised they did not have and it assembled some of the greatest people in the current environment of arts and design.

  111. How many of the Great and the Good were brought in roughly?
  (Mr James) The Great and the Good is your phrase for it. I am talking of them as being professionals in the world of design and cultural matters.

  112. Lord Puttnam was involved, was he not?
  (Mr James) Yes, he was.

  113. Michael Grade.
  (Mr James) Correct.

  114. At that level of person roughly how many?
  (Mr James) Lord Rogers and a number of other people with similar background.

  115. It all seems a bit cliquey, does it not?
  (Mr James) I do not know what relationship they have with each other. I cannot comment. They are people who are leaders in this and I do recall a comment quoted by our Prime Minister who said that this project was going to be a shop window for the greatest skills in architecture and design which this country has and in which we lead the world.

  116. I suppose we could spend quite a few hours naming other people who were not invited who could also fit that criterion. It just seems a little cliquey, but I shall move on. Am I right in thinking that there are content editors of the individual zones or there were when it was being put together?
  (Mr James) They were the godfathers looking over the construction of each one, yes, and there was an overall design manager as well.

  117. The content editors were responsible for overlooking the construction rather than the actual content of what went in each zone.
  (Mr James) The content editors were responsible also for fine-tuning the actual content and what the message of each zone was to be.

  118. What were the qualifications for the appointment of content editors?
  (Mr James) I am sorry, I could not answer that question in terms of what they formally were because I have not looked up that answer.

  119. No, I did not want them individually, but the kind of criteria that the people appointing them were looking for.
  (Mr James) They were looking for something which would be essentially something which would add to the public's understanding of the world in which they were going to go into the 21st century, to be both educational, to be instructive and also hopefully to be fun.

13   Note: See evidence, Appendix 4, page 40, (Pac 00-01/13). Back

14   Note by Witness: The term "consultants" was used by Mr James to indicate that those companies commissioned by NMEC to develop contracts were not part of the company's staff. A more appropriate term in this context would be "designers" rather than "consultants". Back

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