John Prescott, (the Baron) has been asked to return to frontline politics providing inspiration and a large front to the Labour Party May 2015 general election campaign. I thought we had seen the last of Teflon Tony’s sidekicks but it seems, “The Reluctant Baron” has other plans.
Reflecting back to his time at Westminster and the many financial fiasco’s he presided over I chose the, “Millenium Dome” disaster and associated financial mismanagement to present for study and comment since this is the one that was never properly put to bed to the satisfaction of the public who witnessed the waste and frittering away of many £Billions which would have been better spent improving the infrastructure of the UK.
The Millenium Dome
The debacle described below is yet another example of the excesses of Westminster governments. A project, to cost under £500m over-runs resulting in a spend of about £4billion. To add insult the government then gives everything away to private enterprise for nothing. If ever anyone in Scotland needed a reason to vote, “Yes” to independence, the Millenium Dome is it.
1994: Conservative Prime Minister John Major sets up the Millennium Commission and hands responsibility for the Dome to his deputy, Michael Heseltine.
January : The site opposite Greenwich is selected over bids from Birmingham, Derby and Stratford in East London.
May: Feasibility study into the business sector’s contribution to the Dome shows a huge financial shortfall. £144m raised from industry, leaving project still short of £150m.
December: Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine announces the government will UNDERWRITE all Millennium Exhibition costs, despite an undertaking the year previous that it would be paid for entirely with private money.
January: Labour announces that if it wins the imminent general election, it will back the project. Once installed in Number 10, Prime Minister Tony Blair – against cabinet resistance – gives it the go-ahead.
June: Peter Mandelson is made sole shareholder of the New Millennium Experience Company.
July: German company wins commission to build the dome after the only British company to bid pulls out due to the size of the project. But the contract eventually goes to the American, Japanese-owned, company Birdair.
July: Labour minister Clare Short refers to the dome as “a silly temporary building”.
July: Controversy over ex-civil servant Jennie Page’s £500,000 salary as head of New Millennium Experience Company. The figure is eventually amended to £150,000, but with significant built-in performance bonuses.
December: Mandelson forced to resign from the government after The Guardian revealed he kept a £373,000 loan from the Labour Party Paymaster General Geoffrey Robinson secret.
January: Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Tony Blair’s former flatmate, replaced Mandelson as, “Minister Of The Dome.”
May: First tube train to serve the Millennium Dome came on stream, 14 months late and £1.2bn over budget.
June: Dome’s external structure, finally, completed.
September: Tickets on sale for opening ceremony. Sales disappointing. Over priced admission.
November: New Millennium Experience Company received £50m public subsidy loan to cover cash flow difficulties. Pay-out from Millennium Commission first of a number of large hand-outs to keep the attraction solvent. Ticket retailers report low or non-existent ticket sales for opening event, despite £4m advertising campaign.
December: Tony Blair gives strong backing to the Dome, claiming it will be, “a triumph of confidence over cynicism, boldness over blandness, excellence over mediocrity”.
31 December: Dome’s big day massive flop. Problems at Stratford Station where 3,000 guests were forced to queue for hours as their tickets fail to arrive through the post due to an administrative error.
January: First members of paying public view the Dome, feedback generally positive.
January: MPs decide to launch inquiry into problems blighting Millennium Dome, including complaints about two-hour queues to view the most popular attractions.
February: Figures reveal only 344,620 people visited Dome in January. Just 3% of projected annual target.
February: Chief Executive, Jennie Page forced to resign her position. Replaced by frenchman, Pierre-Yves Gerbeau.
March: Millenium Dome project BORROWED a further £9m of lottery money. The finance, from the Millennium Commission, is additional to £32m already loaned to the project, to stave off cash-flow crisis caused by low attendance and booking numbers.
May: Management of Millennium Dome project asked for a further cash injection – on top of a total of £110m given in previous loans – to cover losses due to disappointing visitor numbers. Dome’s management forced to admit it will not meet the required ten million visitor target,. More subsidies needed to stay afloat.
Following unfavourable comparisons with the London Eye Millennium Wheel, Dome is embarrassed by the recently-opened Tate Modern, which attracted 120,000 visitors in the first three days of opening – in contrast to figures showing the Dome struggled to admit 20,000 visitors daily.
May: Millennium Commission agreed to grant ailing attraction a, ‘final’ emergency hand-out of £29m worth of Lottery money. Chairman Bob Ayling forced to quit post.
June: Recently sacked, Jennie Page levelled part of blame for the Dome’s poor performance and low visitor numbers at government ministers.
July: Lord Falconer announced the government would sell Millennium Dome to Japanese finance house, Nomura.
August: Dome received fierce criticism of the running of the attraction in a scathing report published by the Culture Media Sport Select Committee.
August: Newspapers accused Mr Gerbeau of breaking his word not to approach the Millennium Commission for more hand-outs, after news is released that Dome chiefs are to receive £43m in advance from the sale of the Dome.
Newspapers claim decision to proceed with the Dome project was backed by only five members of Tony Blair’s 22-strong cabinet.
Ticket prices for Dome reduced by up to 50% in a final attempt to reverse slump in visitor numbers.
September: Dome receives an extra £47m from the Millennium Commission to stave off an early closure.
Nomura announced they were pulling out of the £105m deal to purchase the troubled attraction and it’s surrounding land.
Tony Blair finally stopped defending the Dome and admitted it had failed to meet public expectations.
London Evening Standard reported Dome chiefs had been given two warnings that their predicted visitor figures of 12 million would not be met some months before it opened.
Michael Heseltine, who commissioned the Dome admitted it should not have been built.
November: Police foil audacious attempt to steal £350m worth of diamonds on display in the Dome.
National Audit Office published a report indicating visitor numbers had been, “ambitious and inherently risky” while there had been a failure to put in sufficiently robust financial management.
Legacy Plc appointed preferred bidder with a plan to turn the Dome into London’s very own silicon valley with hi-tech offices, workshops, retail outlets and leisure facilities.
December: Dome’s year-long exhibition closes – with a surge of visitors in its last days.
February: Legacy Plc, with a bid of £100m, failed to meet government expectations and was stripped of preferred bidder status.
December: Meridian Delta Ltd appointed, “exclusive partners” with government agency English Partnerships to regenerate the Greenwich peninsula. Agreement included plans to convert Dome into a 20,000 seat sports and entertainment complex.
April: News leaked that taxpayers had paid more than £28m to maintain Dome in the year after it had closed.
May: Deal with Meridian consortium and American entertainment giant AEG confirmed. But details slow to surface.
May: News release: Proposal handing over Millennium Dome to Meridien Delta for nothing set to be the subject of an inquiry by government’s financial watchdog. Announcement scheduled for later in the week.
Lord Falconer issued statement of support stating, “it’s got to be the best deal available and it is a deal that regenerates that part of London”. But refused to reveal precisely what the deal included.
National Audit Office, which had already conducted two inquiries into the Dome in recent years, including one only a month before, planned to launch a third investigation after the sale was completed.
Deal involved purchasing Dome, (for nothing) – plus up to 200 acres of prime development land. In return, government would receive a share of any profit from the development of the site with a proposed, £4billion, “mini city” of offices and houses.
Shadow culture secretary Tim Yeo called for an immediate announcement as to how much the Dome deal would cost. “At present, after almost £1billion has been spent, there is still no certainty about whether, when, and how much will be recovered,” he said.
Meridian Delta spokesman denied any deal would be dependent on a new river crossing – a suggestion made in a Sunday newspaper report. “Our plans for the Dome to host a superb 20,000 seat arena and regeneration immediately around the Dome are also not dependent on a third river crossing,” he said.
Tim Yeo insisted inclusion of a river crossing, in any deal would, “materially alter” the value of the site. “If other prospective bidders had been aware that a couple of hundred million pounds was going to be poured on top of the £700m that has already gone in, to provide a river crossing, that may indeed have attracted many more bidders who would have made a much better offer than Meridian Delta has.” He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, “As usual with Lord Falconer, we never quite get the full truth.”
Meridian Delta, subsidiary of, “Anschutz Entertainment Group” (AEG) subsequently awarded a 999 year lease, (free of any charges). Backers reported to include Australian property developer, Lend Lease and British developers, Quintain.
Lord Falconer advised deal was a “joint venture for the Greenwich peninsula and the running of the Dome as an arena”. Both arrangements involved profit sharing. He said, “It’s got to be a value-for-money deal. It’s got to be the best deal that is available.”
Government admitted £4m of public funds had been spent maintaining and securing the Dome since it closed at the end of December 2000.
Total cost to the UK of developing the whole Greenwich Peninsula area between 2002-2006 estimated to be £4billion.
Hows this for a follow up; 2006
Mr Prescott admitted having an affair with his diary secretary, Tracey Temple as the Daily Mirror splashed photos of them cavorting together at a Whitehall party.
Ms Temple published her diary of the affair in a Sunday newspaper, with Prescott saying many of her recollections were “simply untrue”. Sir Alistair Graham, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said there were questions about whether Mr Prescott had broken the ministerial code.
Labour backbencher Stephen Pound said Prescott should consider his position and said news of his affair is causing “huge problems” for Labour in the run-up to the local elections.
Conservative leader David Cameron says Mr Prescott “clearly looks a fool” and has a “woeful record” in office.
Mr Prescott’s department, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, promises significant changes after criticism of bullying and discrimination. In a staff survey last year, one in 10 workers claimed to have been victimised and 22% had witnessed some form of unfair treatment of colleagues.
Labour suffers heavy losses at the local elections and in the ensuing reshuffle Mr Prescott is stripped of his department but keeps his Cabinet job, his £133,000 a year salary and his two grace-and-favour homes.
Tony Blair defends Mr Prescott’s new role, saying Willie Whitelaw and Michael Heseltine performed a similar role as deputy prime minister.
The Mail on Sunday publishes photos of Mr Prescott playing croquet with staff at his grace-and-favour country residence, Dorneywood, while Mr Blair is away on an overseas trip.
More Labour backbenchers question Mr Prescott’s position, with Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP Derek Wyatt saying it is not tenable for him to keep his official residences or chairmanship of Cabinet committees.
Mr Prescott gives up his official country residence, saying: “I have accepted that my continued use of Dorneywood is getting in the way of doing my job in government.”
The Conservatives claim Mr Prescott costs taxpayers £2m a year – using figures from parliamentary answers and reports on wages paid to his staff.
The newspapers reveal that Mr Prescott visited the ranch Philip Anschutz, the owner of the Dome who is bidding for the UK’s first super casino to be located there. Mr Prescott says the visit was during a nine-day official trip to the US and he was discussing a film about former Hull MP William Wilberforce.
The Conservatives complain that Mr Prescott may have broken MPs rules and the ministerial code, as he did not register his stay with Mr Anschutz. Sports Minister Richard Caborn rubbishes the claims in the Commons and says Mr Prescott has no responsibility for planning casinos.
Parliament’s standards watchdog, Sir Philip Mawer, says he is making preliminary inquiries about whether he needs to investigate. Mr Prescott writes to the Tories saying he met Mr Anschutz seven times over three years but denies discussing either the sale of the Dome or casino licences.
Mr Prescott declares his stay with Mr Anschutz in the MPs’ register, although says he does not actually need to as it was an official trip and was covered entirely by public funds.
A row erupted after it emerged Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and some of his civil servants stayed at tycoon Philip Anschutz’s ranch in July last year as part of a nine-day trip to the United States. He only declared the trip in a belated report to the Commons, 11 moths later, after some pressure.
The Commons standards committee who were asked to inquire suggested its role – and that of watchdog Sir Philip Mawer who carried out the initial investigation – had no remit to conduct an inquiry into whether a minister had breached the ministerial code since this was retained by the Prime Minister.
And that is precisely what Mr Prescott’s critics have been demanding and what the prime minister – who is the only one with the power to order that probe – has steadfastly refused to do. It would certainly represent a far more serious investigation and throw a major new question mark over Mr Prescott’s future. If it found the relationship between Mr Prescott and Mr Anschutz did lead to a conflict of interest, or the appearance of one, it could be a lethal blow to the deputy prime minister who has protested his innocence throughout this affair.
Mr Blair’s office spokesman stated their would be no further inquiry and the issue was now at an end.
The Commissioner on Standards in Public Life, Sir Alistair Graham applied pressure, (without success) on the Prime Minister to change his mind. Mr Blair went away on holiday.