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Call for independent inquiry into relationship with agency is blocked

PUBLISHED: 09:38 25 January 2019 | UPDATED: 10:10 25 January 2019

Calls for an independent inquiry into West Norfolk Council's relationship with Norfolk and Waveney Enterprise services, after the authority repossessed King's Lynn Innovation Centre over an unpaid £2.75m loan, was turned down last night  Picture: Matthew Usher.

Calls for an independent inquiry into West Norfolk Council's relationship with Norfolk and Waveney Enterprise services, after the authority repossessed King's Lynn Innovation Centre over an unpaid £2.75m loan, was turned down last night Picture: Matthew Usher.

© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2016

A call for an independent inquiry into a local authority's relationship with a troubled enterprise agency was blocked last night.

West Norfolk council lent Norfolk and Waveney Enterprise Services (Nwes) £2.75m to build the King’s Lynn Innovation Centre.

The council repossessed the building on Nar Ouse Way last month after Nwes defaulted on the loan.

A motion calling for a full, independent inquiry into the council’s financial relationship with Nwes was tabled by Labour councillor Charles Joyce.

But it was overturned by a motion by council leader Brian Long calling for the matter to be considered by the council’s cabinet.

Mr Long said: “We have a procedure for dealing with things within this organisation. There is no accusation from anybody of misappropriation of anything that I have done, yet the audit process is investigating how it affects us.

“It will report to the audit committee who will make recommendations to cabinet, and cabinet is the correct body for instigating any further investigation, and if it proves that it’s necessary I welcome any investigation.”

But Mr Joyce said: “I will be going to cabinet and I will push them to have the local government association to have a look into what the council did. Did it do anything wrong? Should they have done something better?”

Other councillors voiced strong opposition to the new motion being carried.

Councillor Richard Bird said: “The mere fact that they can take the motion back and their own situation be reviewed by their own cabinet is nonsense.”

Councillors voted 31-11 for the new motion.

Before the meeting, Mr Joyce admitted his motion had a slim chance of being passed. Conservatives hold 46 of the 62 seats on the council with Labour holding just eight.

Nwes’ new boss said she was “horrified” by the amount of money it owed as fresh questions emerged over its finances this week.

A joint investigation by the EDP and BBC has revealed the publicly-funded agency made payments of almost £900,000 to a firm owned by one of its directors while it racked up millions in debt.

It also paid for staff to have holidays in a French holiday villa owned by its directors.

West Norfolk mayor Nick Daubney, who was a director of Nwes until 2016, said he raised concerns with the board about the lease of the villa, but he said he was “assured that all was in order”.

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