Hong Kong lawmakers yesterday rounded on the government over its handling of the trouble-plagued Harbour Fest after top-line act the Rolling Stones cancelled. Officials hit back, claiming the Stones' pullout would not affect the success of the event - which starts Friday. But they admitted they now must race to find a replacement act to close the four-week event. There are fears the withdrawal of the ageing rockers, who had been pencilled in to play on November 7 and 9, will hit ticket sales, which are already rumoured to be very low - thus threatening to increase the overall cost to taxpayers. The government has now agreed to pay up to $100 million, rather than $80 million as originally proposed, to cover any shortfall in costs after ticket sales. Officials have refused to provide concrete figures on ticket sales. Mike Rowse, director-general of InvestHK - the government agency financing the festival - would only say that sales had been 'reasonable' and would improve. In a special meeting of the Legislative Council's Finance Committee, Emily Lau Wai-hing of The Frontier criticised the government for turning a project aimed at raising Hong Kong's profile after the Sars outbreak into a failure. 'It costs $80 million but the result has been extensive negative publicity. It is totally the opposite from the original target of getting publicity for Hong Kong,' she said. Mr Rowse insisted the absence of the Rolling Stones would not affect the success of the event, but admitted the collapse of the deal to bring them to Hong Kong - confirmed on Friday - would affect its finances. 'There will be a considerable impact both on expenditure and on revenue,' he said. Mr Rowse said there was only a verbal agreement that the Stones would come to Hong Kong, so there was no possibility of compensation. 'These things happen in the entertainment industry. We used their name genuinely ... and therefore got extra publicity. They were not charging us for that.' James Thompson, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce, which is organising the event, said 'negative' reports and comments by the media and legislators had 'scared away' potential and existing sponsors. He said on Friday that the deal fell through because the Stones could not line up concerts in Beijing and Shanghai. In May, Legco approved a $1 billion budget for events to boost the economy. Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen said with the economy improving, the tap could be turned off. 'We have never said we have to spend the entire sum,' he said. Independent legislator Audrey Eu Yuet-mee wanted to know if the government had misled the public into believing that the Stones was to be part of the show. 'The Rolling Stones was the ace card. How could you go with your publicity without a contract and the event had not been finalised?'