Ex-directors charged enterprise agency for staff holidays

The villa is part of a complex of villas Image copyright Google
Image caption Villa Chauve-Souris in Languedoc in the south of France is part of a complex of villas

Two former directors of one of the UK's biggest enterprise agencies sent staff on free holidays to their French villa and then billed the firm, the BBC has learned.

Ex-chief executive Kevin Horne and ex-director John Balch charged Norfolk and Waveney Enterprise Services (NWES).

The new NWES board stopped the payments after the discovery in April and launched an investigation.

The former directors said they were unable to comment.

The outcome is unknown but the BBC understands invoices for thousands of pounds were subsequently rejected.

Mr Horne and Mr Balch both resigned in April this year from NWES, a not-for-profit organisation that supports businesses with grants and loans.

Much of its income comes from public sources, such as the European Union, local and central government grants.

Image caption Kevin Horne resigned from NWES in April

Jo Clarke, acting chief executive of NWES, said the current board thought the "arrangements were not appropriate for our organisation" and it was stopped when the "information came to our attention".

The £100-a-night Villa Chauve-Souris, in Languedoc in the south of France, is part of an "exclusive private gated development", according to its website.

Rent was collected by Beacon Property Investments, which was jointly owned by Mr Horne and Mr Balch.

'I regret it'

It is unclear how many NWES workers stayed there for free but one former employee said it was used frequently in the summer of 2016.

"I took the holiday the company was offering. I regret it - I shouldn't have done it," said the staff member.

"Nobody knew how it was funded."

Mr Horne said: "As a former senior officer in a private limited company I am bound by a confidential agreement which continues after employment which means that I am therefore not at liberty to comment in response to your questions".

Mr Balch said: "I am not at liberty to comment on any such inquiries relating to NWES. I am retired from the NWES board, but still bound by confidentiality agreements."

This year the firm made 14 staff redundant. It hit financial problems after taking over two other enterprise agencies in 2016/17.

An independent auditor's report, in the most recently published accounts, said: "Certain events and conditions have been identified as to cast doubt on the company's ability to continue as a going concern."

Last week, it handed back a flagship business centre in King's Lynn to the borough council after missing a deadline to repay a £2.75m loan.

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