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Time to pull plug on pointless tent - Hague.

Tory leader William Hague last night led calls for the immediate closure of the Dome and the sacking of the Minister responsible for running it as he launched a blistering attack on the latest pounds 47 million handout for the beleaguered attraction.

Describing the Dome as 'an empty pointless tent in the middle of nowhere', Mr Hague called on Tony Blair to fire Lord Falconer, the Minister in charge of the south London showpiece.

And demands were growing for the extra money to be diverted to charities such as cancer research, with critics hailing saving lives as a far worthier cause than 'leisure facilities'.

Mr Hague also called on the Prime Minister to announce a full inquiry into the 'scandal' of the Dome.

But some of the shine was taken off Mr Hague's attack when Tory ex-deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine warned the party leader that he may not have been 'fully apprised' of the facts.

Mr Heseltine, one of the Millennium commissioners who backed the decision to throw the Dome a pounds 47 million lifeline, said shutting down the attraction now would force small businesses and employees to shoulder the costs.

'What he was effectively saying was that the creditors should take the strain.'

The New Millennium Experience Company claimed closing the Dome early would cost an extra pounds 40 million, on top of the pounds 47 million given to the company on Tuesday, because of the cost of breaking contracts early and paying redundancy to the staff.

But Sir Paul Nurse, of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, said: 'The Dome has had a good run for its money - it's about time cancer research received similar support.'

And libel lawyer George Carman QC, aged 70, who disclosed at the weekend that he had prostate cancer, added: 'When we look at Dome figures and look at cancer research figures and balance them, every Member of Parliament who hears this must know that what the electorate wants is money to prevent the death of its citizens rather than provide leisure facilities. Lord Falconer said he had spoken to the Prime Minister yesterday. He had not offered his resignation or been asked for it, he said.

The peer stressed that being a former flat-mate of Mr Blair made absolutely no difference to his position.

'I've absolutely no doubt that the Prime Minister would, if he thought it appropriate, require my resignation, just as he would any other minister, whether in the Commons or the Lords,' he said.

In a statement yesterday, Mr Hague said: 'The Dome is the ultimate symbol of New Labour. Instead of spending money and time on our hospitals or schools, they are throwing endless resources at trying to rescue an empty, pointless tent in the middle of nowhere.

'I am calling on the Prime Minister to do four things immediately. Mr Blair should close down the Dome today; he should fire his Dome minister today; he should announce a full public inquiry into the Dome scandal today; and he should transfer the money being wasted on the Dome to real good causes such as cancer research - today.'

The Conservative leader's outburst came as new Dome executive chairman David James criticised the operators of the Greenwich attraction for failing to keep a register of assets or to undertake an investigative financial study.

But despite the latest crisis, Japanese finance group Nomura said it was going ahead with its negotiations to buy the Dome site and its surrounds for pounds 105 million.

Mr James, a troubleshooter with a reputation of rescuing ailing companies, said that with hindsight it had 'perhaps not been a wise decision' to build the Dome.

He said:

Dome organisers the New Millennium Experience Company had failed to keep a register of assets

The Dome was 'a hell of a difficult place to get to'

NMEC should, last month, have asked for pounds 90 million from the advanced sale of the Dome rather than the pounds 43 million it got

The Dome was a good family day out, although he - a bachelor - had difficulty relating to it when he had visited recently.
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Author:Woodman, Peter; Deane, John
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 7, 2000
Words:685
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