Council facing independent inquiry over failure to recoup £2.75m loan
West Norfolk Council will be held to account over its failure to recoup millions of pounds in unpaid loans from a troubled enterprise firm – having missed several key opportunities to do so.
The council's controversial partnership with the Norfolk and Waveney Enteprises (NWES) has come under much scrutiny in recent months, after it saw £2.75m in loans unreturned.
The loans were handed over to allow for the building of the King's Lynn Innovation Centre, which opened two years ago and has since been repossessed by the council.
However, it has since emerged the loans were given to NWES without proper checks being put in place to ensure they would be repaid.
At an extraordinary meeting of the full council last night, members almost unanimously voted that they should be held to account over these failings through an independent inquiry.
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It was during this meeting that it came to light that the council had missed numerous opportunities to carry out further checks on the company's financial dealings – to ensure the loans would be repaid.
Independent councillor David Pope said these included in September 2016, when a further £260,000 loan to NWES was agreed.
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The inquiry was approved following a motion tabled by Independent group leader Jim Moriaty, which council leader Brian Long seconded. Mr Moriaty said: 'The public has the right to know if the problem is as a result of incompetence, vested interests or much more murkier.
'The independent external inquiry will shine a bright light on the operations of this council.'
Mr Long, the council's Conservative leader, said: 'It is very easy to say with the benefit of hindsight that things went wrong, but we now have a fantastic facility in the innovation centre we did not have previously. There were no concerns at the time and building the centre then was the right thing to do. Now, the right thing to do is have the inquiry and look at what lessons can be learned.'
Mr Long went on to insist the £2.75m 'had not been lost, it has just not been repaid.'
The inquiry is due to be carried out by an independent panel, which will be selected by an outside organisation such as the Local Government Association.