Draft Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre Trading Fund (Variation) Order 2002

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Brian Cotter (Weston-super-Mare): I, too, support the proposal. I shall make only two or three points.

Does the Minister know the current occupancy charge? I note that over five years, £5.8 million was returned to the Exchequer, which is more than £1 million a year. I have seen a figure of £300,000—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—cited as a minimum contribution to the Exchequer for this year. I might have got that wrong, but that seems to be much less than past contributions. Will the Minister elaborate on what the consultancy is all about and what it means?

Where does the money—be it £300,000 or more than £1 million—go to? I know that it goes to the Exchequer, but does it disappear into a great big pot or does it have a specific purpose? Is there any way in which we parliamentarians can monitor the conference centre's future performance and give our opinions on it?

4.43 pm

Mr. Leslie: Those comments and questions came thick and fast, and I shall endeavour to answer as many as I can. If hon. Members wish to gain more information, I am sure that Kirk Albrow, who is the new chief executive of the centre, will be happy to arrange a visit to provide them with further information.

The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) asked whether we are forcing the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre to compete. On the contrary, we are trying to give the centre more flexibility and greater freedom to allow it to compete on a level playing field. The order's clarification is an attempt to do that.

I do not necessarily expect that the order will have a direct effect on prices for conference booking, although if income generation is taken into account, they might be affected. That would be an operational matter for the management of the centre.

I shall move on to the justification for public ownership of the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre. When the centre was built—there was much planning for it during the previous Administration—the need for major national and international conference facilities at the heart of the capital was recognised, not least for the public sector. The private sector might not have been able to provide sufficient security at the time. The quinquennial review process considered the matter and re-confirmed that the public sector was well placed to continue to provide the service.

We have set a number of targets for the managers of the centre. I do not expect that the order will affect those, although we keep them under review. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Brian Cotter) asked about the nature of the consultancy services. We are considering how staff at the centre might give training

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and management advice to, for instance, academic and other institutions around the country that may be interested in establishing conference facilities.

I am not yet aware of any projected income figures for the consultancy service, as much of that activity does not take place at present, although we would increasingly like to begin such work. Hon. Members asked what scope for extra lettings income might include. As well as the aerials on the roof, there are apparently opportunities for car-park lettings, and possibly even space for the development of leisure facilities such as restaurants on the site.

A financial downturn might affect the trading fund, just as most such funds would be affected. It is normal Treasury policy to anticipate that in the general design and establishment of trading funds. I understand that the occupancy charge is roughly £1.3 million a year, a capital charge equating to around 6 per cent. If I have got those figures wrong, I shall write to the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare.

The order is sound and commendable. It looks to regularise the activities of the service.

Brian Cotter: I wonder whether I had a relevant point when I asked about the £300,000 return for this year, as opposed to more than £1 million in previous years. Perhaps I have got the figures wrong, in which case I would be happy to accept a written reply.

Mr. Leslie: I understand that the figure to which the hon. Gentleman refers is the target that we set for the financial year, although returns have tended to be of more significant sums. Returns from the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre will go to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister from this year. The £300,000 referred to is less the ODPM's capital charge, but the difference will be made up in another way. It might help all concerned if I write to him to clarify that.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I think that the Minister said that the occupancy charge was £1.3 million a year, which on a 6 per cent. basis equates to a capital value of roughly £200 million. Will he confirm that?

Mr. Leslie: £20 million.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The Minister says that the capital value will be £20 million. Will he confirm whether the occupancy charge is likely to be increased by the order? If it is envisaged that the order will enable the trading fund to offer more services, the expectation should be that it will make a profit. Therefore, one would expect the Exchequer to benefit from a higher occupancy charge.

Mr. Leslie: I take the hon. Gentleman's point. The valuation stands at around £20 million, and I do not expect the order to affect the occupancy charge.

Having covered most of the points, I commend the order to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre Trading Fund (Variation) Order 2002.

        Committee rose at eleven minutes to Five o'clock.

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The following Members attended the Committee:
O'Hara, Mr. Edward (Chairman)
Clifton-Brown, Mr.
Cotter, Brian
Leslie, Mr.
MacDonald, Mr.
Marshall, Mr. Jim
Robinson, Mr. Geoffrey
Ruane, Chris
Sheridan, Jim
Singh, Mr.
Strang, Dr.
Sutcliffe, Mr.

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