Council vows to learn lessons from innovation centre debacle

A cross party report found "many weaknesses" in West Norfolk council's handling of the King's Lynn I

A cross party report found "many weaknesses" in West Norfolk council's handling of the King's Lynn Innoation Centre deal Picture: Matthew Usher.

Councillors tonight agreed to more rigorously examine future large-scale investments after the debacle over a business centre which defaulted owing millions.

West Norfolk council's audit committee met to discuss a report into the failed King's Lynn innovation Centre (KLIC) project.

The council was forced to repossess the building in December 2018 after enterprise agency NWES defaulted on a £2.5m loan.

A report by a cross party group of councillors set up to investigate the authority's handling of the deal concluded the building was "an operational success" but there were "many weaknesses".

They included insufficient background checks on NWES, a "naive view" of the building's value and failing to secure the loan on NWES's assets.

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It also found conflicts of interest in the partnership between the council and NWES, and a lack of due diligence.

Councillors did not back a motion to exclude members of the press and public from the meeting.

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As debate got under way independent councillor Alexandra Kemp, who was a member of the working group, said: "My chief concern is the lessons learned have not yet been implemented." Labour's Charles Joyce said questions yet to be answered included where the money went and why councillors involved had been so naive.

Council leader Brian Long said NWES had a track record of delivering similar projects across the region.

He added: "My own opinion is the benefits we've got from that building still outweigh the fact the procedures we followed as a council were not as robust as they should be."

Councillors heard both KLIC loans - the original £2.5m and an additional £250,000 loaned to NWES - would be repaid by the end of 2024.

Councillors agreed to endorse the report's recommendations and forward them to the authority's ruling cabinet.

They included subjecting any joint venture with a third party to "rigorous examination".

The report also recommended any loan must be secured on an asset, while major projects involving a third party should be overseen by the council's chief executive or a director.

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