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No 'useful purpose' to further KLIC probe, says independent investigator

An independent inquiry into West Norfolk Council's handling of a Lynn business hub would not serve "any useful purpose", according to the official appointed to conduct it.

Councillors voted to set up an external review into the King's Lynn Innovation Centre (KLIC) in March last year, after its then operator had failed to repay £2.75 million in loans.

But, in a newly published report, Alison Lowton, who was appointed to conduct the probe, concluded it would not be a sensible use of public resources.

KLIC centre in Lynn. (7806938)
KLIC centre in Lynn. (7806938)

The conclusion has emerged within papers to be considered by the authority's ruling cabinet when it meets next week.

Ms Lowton, a qualified solicitor of 35 years' practice said she was "not averse" to taking on complicated matters.

But she added: "I am also of the view that organisations need to know when they have done as much as they can to understand an issue and when further pursuit is unlikely to do anything other than keep a difficult issue in the public eye.

"In general, unless there are evident issues of fraud or malfeasance, once an authority has understood the problem and approved recommendations to make sure that the specific problems do not re-occur, there is little to be gained from continued investigation."

Although the report has only just been released, it is dated from February 19, little more than a week after members of the council's audit committee debated the findings of a report compiled by a cross-party working group of councillors into what went wrong.

They concluded the authority, which took over the management of the site earlier this month, had been naive in its dealings with NWES, the company appointed to build and manage the centre.

It identified 11 separate weaknesses in the council's handling of the project.

Ms Lowton said she would not have the authority to interview people that either the working group or the audit committee could not, nor to obtain material that was available to them.

She wrote that she agreed with their "comprehensive" conclusions and said the only purpose of a further probe would be to "mark the homework the council has already done", potentially at considerable expense.

She added: "If there is any evidence of criminal activity (and none has been revealed or even suggested) then the right agency to deal with this is the police."

"In my view, the council has a very good and comprehensive understanding of what went wrong.

"I cannot see that any useful purpose would be served by a further investigation by me or any other independent investigator.

"If what the council wanted was reassurance that they have done as much as they can, then this report provides that reassurance."

The report is set to be debated at a virtual cabinet meeting next Tuesday, June 30.

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