An independent report into the activities of a business quango funded to the tune of £2m-a-year by Northamptonshire taxpayers has been controversially delayed until after the county council elections in May.
The “Healthcheck” report was commissioned by County Hall amid concerns about Northamptonshire Enterprise Partnership (NEP) which also runs a £200,000-a-year office in Brussels designed to help bring inward investment to the county. But the delayed publication has angered opposition politicians who claim it has been kicked into the long grass amid fears the findings could cause huge potential embarrassment to the Conservative-led administration as it tries to secure a third term in office.
Councillor Chris Lofts, Lib Dem Opposition economy spokesman, said it was a “valuable” report that would show how effective NEP really was.
“The report will expose whether NEP actually delivers the value for money the Tories claim. In light of repeated criticism from us that the £2m annual cost to the taxpayer could be better spent, the NEP Healthcheck was commissioned and should have reported in March. The Conservative cabinet has now delayed publication and it won’t be made public until June.
“This is really disappointing as the sooner we discover if there are lessons to be learnt and there are better ways of supporting local enterprise the better.
“The longer the delay the more concern we have there is actually something to hide.”
A county council spokesman said: “It was commissioned by us. It was always intended time would be allowed to get NEP’s views before taking it to cabinet.
“This is underway and it’ll go to the June meeting with a wider end-of-year NEP report.”
The report was commissioned following last May’s cabinet meeting when concerns were raised about NEP including one, by independent politician, Liam Costello, that NEP “specialises in spin” and operates in a culture of secrecy”.
Its agreed remit was to “consider NEP’s performance against objectives, value for money, influencing role, satisfaction rating, management capacity and capability, processes and systems”.
NEP, whose HQ is in Billing Road, last night issued a statement on the report: “This report is both commissioned and managed by the county council.
“We are currently in a planned consultation phase with them and understand it will be presented to the cabinet in June.”