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Questions for enterprise agency over claims staff took free holidays at boss' luxury French villa

PUBLISHED: 08:39 19 December 2018 | UPDATED: 08:39 19 December 2018

Chief executive of NWES Kevin Horne retired in April. He said he was unable to comment on the report.  Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Chief executive of NWES Kevin Horne retired in April. He said he was unable to comment on the report. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2018

An enterprise agency has refused to comment on claims staff enjoyed free holidays at a villa owned by two of its ex-directors - who then tried to bill the agency for the stays.

Staff at NWES enjoyed free holidays billed to NWES at a villa in this complex in the south of France owned by NWES' boss Kevin Horne. Photo: GoogleStaff at NWES enjoyed free holidays billed to NWES at a villa in this complex in the south of France owned by NWES' boss Kevin Horne. Photo: Google

Kevin Horne, ex-chief executive of Norfolk and Waveney Enterprise Services (NWES) and ex-director John Balch, billed NWES for the holidays, with rent collected through their firm called Beacon Property Investments, according to claims in a BBC report.

But the new board at NWES halted the payments after discovering them in April this year and began an investigation. Today a Norwich MP has raised concerns about what happened.

NWES, which has an office on Rouen Road, Norwich, refused to answer our questions about how much money was billed to NWES, how many years it went for or how the allegations came to light.

But acting chief executive Jo Clarke told the BBC that the current board felt the “arrangements were not appropriate”.

John Balch, former director of NWES, pictured in 2016. Picture: Matthew UsherJohn Balch, former director of NWES, pictured in 2016. Picture: Matthew Usher

The agency, which supports new businesses in the region, is largely funded by taxpayers through government and EU grants and is run as a not-for-profit.

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis said: “Local people running or thinking about starting a business will be appalled by this. While they’ve been putting in the hours and coping with the uncertainty involved in making a small business successful, this has been happening at an organisation that is meant to be on their side.”

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith said: “Any income from public sources comes from taxpayers and should be treated with the utmost respect.”

Mr Horne and Mr Balch both left NWES in April.

Nwes logoNwes logo

When contacted by this newspaper Mr Horne said he was unable to comment because he had signed a confidentiality agreement when he left.

Mr Balch, who is managing director of business consultants Nautilus, told the BBC he was unable to comment because of confidentiality agreements.

According to its website the villa is in an “exclusive private gated development”, has a private pool and picturesque views.

One night at the five-bedroom villa costs up to £200.

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis said local businesses seeking NWES' help should be appalled by the revelation.  Picture: ANTONY KELLYNorwich South MP Clive Lewis said local businesses seeking NWES' help should be appalled by the revelation. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

NWES hit financial difficulties last year, its most recent accounts show.

Accounts for the year ending March 2017 state its expansion, where it took over two other enterprise agencies, had led to financial pressure.

“Certain events and conditions have been identified that cast doubt on the company’s ability to continue as a going concern,” the company’s auditors wrote.

On Wednesday it had to hand a business centre in King’s Lynn to the council after missing a deadline to repay a £2.75m loan on it.

NWES borrowed the money from King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council in 2014 and had until November 30 to pay back the cash back.

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