Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, told Parliament today that the targets for visitor numbers and income required by the Millennium Dome were highly ambitious and inherently risky. They involved a significant degree of financial exposure on the project, which materialised when the targets were missed.
Sir John was commenting on the outcome of the National Audit Office examination of the financial performance of the project since the Dome opened.
The Report acknowledges that opening the Dome on time was a major achievement and that the Dome has attracted more paying visitors than any other UK “pay to visit” attraction. But, as is well known, the New Millennium Experience Company, established to run the Dome, has experienced severe financial difficulties during this year. Visitor numbers have been substantially lower than the 12 million paying visitors forecast in the original business plan; and by September 2000 the Company was planning on the basis of 4.5 million paying visitors and 6 million in total.
In the face of the severe shortfall in the Company’s revenue, during the year 2000 the Millennium Commission has approved four additional grants totalling £179 million, and the amount of grant funding has increased from £399 million to £628 million, an increase of £229 million or 57 per cent. The Report looks in detail at changes in the overall cost and income assumptions over the life of the project and in particular at how far visitor numbers and revenues have varied from those forecast and required. It also examines key factors influencing performance.