Call for inquiry into King's Lynn business hub loan rejected
A demand for an independent inquiry into the handling of a multi-million pound loan to the operators of a Lynn business hub has been defeated tonight.
Councillors had been urged to approve a motion, tabled by independent councillor Charles Joyce, calling for an external probe of the partnership between the authority and Norfolk and Waveney Enterprise Services (NWES).
But no vote was taken on that at this evening's full council meeting, after a counter-motion, proposed by council leader Brian Long, for the matter to be referred to the cabinet was passed instead.
As that vote was taken, one observer in the public gallery commented: "There goes democracy."
But, following the meeting, Mr Long dismissed that as "absolute rubbish" and accused Mr Joyce of seeking to use the matter for political purposes.
He said: "Any misappropriation that he seems to think is involved, he needs to identify that to us, instead of trying to make cheap political points."
However, Mr Joyce insisted he would continue to press for external scrutiny and did not rule out referring the issue to the Local Government Ombudsman if the administration did not act first.
He also suggested voters could give their verdict on the issue at May's elections.
Asked what he thought the public would make of the affair, he said: "I think their breath will be taken away."
Questions about the council's relationship with NWES, which operates the King's Lynn Innovation Centre (KLIC) have been raised in recent weeks after the company failed to repay a £2.75 million loan when it was due at the end of November.
Tonight's meeting was told that an internal review of the matter is already underway and a report is due to be presented to the council's audit committee in March. The building is also now back in council ownership.
But Mr Joyce, who suggested the Local Government Association (LGA) should be approached to look into the matter, argued that the council's reputation was being damaged and opposing his proposal would only increase the impact in the eyes of the public.
He said: "We need someone to come in here and look to see what we did wrong, if we did anything wrong.
"We need to ensure local taxpayers can trust this council, irrespective of who they voted for and, if indeed they do not vote."
But Mr Long said it was not the authority's reputation that was being brought into question but that of NWES, amid reported allegations of wrongdoing under its previous management.
Alistair Beales, the council's cabinet member for corporate projects and assets, also insisted that referring the issue to cabinet would not prevent the council from seeking an external investigation in the future if that was deemed to be necessary.
He said the time was "not right" for an external inquiry, adding: "The LGA can't investigate what is not known yet."
Absent from the debate on the motions was the borough mayor, Nick Daubney, who is a former non-executive director of NWES.
At the beginning of the meeting, he told members he would leave the chamber when the matter was discussed, believing that role amounted to a prejudicial interest, under the rules relating to the conduct of councillors.
But Mr Beales launched a fierce defence of Mr Daubney's role in the development of KLIC, calling it as a matter of "merit" and public service.
He also claimed recent reports of his own comments on Mr Daubney's role in the project were distasteful