New claims fuel Millenium row

Controversy surrounding the 16m pitch refuses to die down – Government advice was ignored

The New Millennium Experience Company bypassed Government advice on appointing advertising agencies to award M&C Saatchi its 16m account.

Last year, the then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Roger Freeman, responsible for the Central Office of Information, warned all government departments not using the COI to consult the independent Advisory Committee on Advertising (ACA) before drawing up agency shortlists. Whitehall sources say Freeman included quangos like the NMEC among those which should consult the ACA.

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman says: “The ACA is there for consultation – there is no statutory requirement to consult.” However, this is believed to be the first occasion on which a public body has not consulted the ACA before awarding an account.

A senior Whitehall source says: “Anything which includes spending taxpayers’ money, not just departments, has to be seen to be transparent, so any public body spending a lot of public money should consult the ACA. It is fair to say that there is surprise at the way NMEC has done this.”

COI director of marketing communications Peter Buchanan met Millennium Central, as the NMEC was previously known, on February 25. “I explained the COI’s procedure and the ACA’s role. But the NMEC decided against adopting the COI system.”

A statement from the NMEC says: “Our processes were fully in accordance with European Union rules. The selection procedure was fair and open and had the approval of the Millennium Commission.”

News Analysis, page 1

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