Winding-up the affairs of The New Millennium Experience Company Limited (NMEC) was handled in a professional way, Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, told Parliament today. Getting NMEC into the position where it was able to go in a solvent state into voluntary liquidation on 18 December 2001 was a major task.
Before disposing of the Dome’s contents, NMEC had to compile a comprehensive asset database because the company’s systems for maintaining detailed records of assets had been overwhelmed by the amount of material and equipment delivered in the final months before the Dome opened. NMEC received £4.5 million from its sales of assets.
Over 1,350 contracts had to be reviewed with the aim of ensuring that they were all logged and closed in a beneficial way for NMEC, and of reducing contractual liabilities to a minimum prior to a solvent liquidation. But the task was complicated by the absence of adequate records and took over 12 months to complete.
NMEC, with the assistance of a team from PricewaterhouseCoopers, conducted a review in the light of fraud allegations. Most of these allegations and cases have since been closed, but Police inquiries continue. There were also instances of poor or ineffective compliance with internal controls, especially on work awarded without competition. This means it was doubtful that some purchases were good value for money.
In addition, the unusual step of placing a public sector body into liquidation, and ensuring this was done with NMEC in a solvent state, raised complex accountability issues which the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Millennium Commission and NMEC worked together to resolve.
On entering voluntary liquidation, NMEC was in better shape than when the National Audit Office last reported. It was solvent and forecasting that £25 million of the £628 million lottery grant would not be required, although this cannot be guaranteed.
The biggest difference in NMEC’s overall financial situation has been the increase in its income which was forecast in December 2001 to be £189 million (down from the £359 million budgeted in May 1997 but up from the £168 million forecast when the National Audit Office last reported). This is mainly due to increased visitor numbers towards the end of 2000, together with the proceeds from the sale of the Dome’s contents.
NMEC’s expenditure was forecast in December 2001 to be £789 million (up from the £758 million budgeted in May 1997 but down from the £793 million forecast when the National Audit Office last reported). During 2001, running NMEC and the Dome cost £16 million.