Scale of mistrust over staging of ‘high risk’ event laid bare

Celebrating Yorkshire's winning bid to host the Grand Depart of the 2014 Tour de France are, from left, first Briton to win a stage of the Tour de France Brian Robinson, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire Gary Verity and the first rider to win a points jersey on a Grand Tour Malcolm Elliott.
Celebrating Yorkshire's winning bid to host the Grand Depart of the 2014 Tour de France are, from left, first Briton to win a stage of the Tour de France Brian Robinson, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire Gary Verity and the first rider to win a points jersey on a Grand Tour Malcolm Elliott.
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British sports officials considered next year’s staging of the Tour de France in Yorkshire to be a “very high risk” event facing “significant” challenges when they met to discuss the matter four months ago, documents obtained by the Yorkshire Post reveal.

Minutes from a series of private meetings held by Government funding quango UK Sport during the first months of 2013 show the scale of concern in Whitehall over the way tourism agency Welcome to Yorkshire was planning to run the event after successfully securing it for the region.

Although the notes have been heavily redacted by UK Sport lawyers, they nonetheless reveal how the quango’s board expressed “limited confidence” in Welcome to Yorkshire as they turned down the region’s bid for Government funding in March.

“This is a very high risk project, with significant financial and logistical challenges and an extremely limited time frame,” the UK Sport board warned in March.

The minutes suggest UK Sport was prepared to let Welcome to Yorkshire go it alone, and that it was only pressure from Ministers to find a way forward which resulted in Whitehall funds finally being put forward for the event.

The UK Sport board formally agreed on March 20 that “it should not invest funding into Welcome to Yorkshire’s proposal, due to the concerns that had been raised regarding the financial and logistical viability of the hosting plans.”

The board “also expressed limited confidence in Welcome to Yorkshire’s leadership of the event.”

However, the board was subsequently told that “Government shared some of UK Sport’s concerns regarding the proposals, but that Government was minded to make a significant investment into the event if a viable proposition could be found.”

UK Sport’s intransigence dates back to Welcome to Yorkshire’s decision to circumvent the normal process for securing funding, by entering a separate bid to bring the Grand Depart to Yorkshire without the quango’s support - and in direct opposition to its own plan to take the event to Scotland.

Minutes from its first meeting with the successful Yorkshire bid team in January show UK Sport was initially told the event “is fully funded, and will happen with or without Government help.”

But it quickly became clear the Yorkshire organisers did want financial assistance.

The bid team said “it would not be possible to share all information until UK Sport support was agreed.” One member of the bid team said “he wanted everyone to maintain a good relationship, but that Welcome to Yorkshire needed UK Sport funding.”

The quango was seemingly not minded to help, pointing out that normal processes had not been followed. In a clear indication of the strained relationship, one member of the Yorkshire team said it was time “to look at how the UK Sport process works, and if it could be improved”, and called for “people to work in the right spirit, and be grown up about the situation”.

In a phone call four days later, it was finally made clear to UK Sport that “there isn’t currently an over-arching budget in place”.

UK Sport was clearly unimpressed, warning that they “need clarity on exactly what funding is being sought, and for what areas.”

After another meeting in February, UK Sport asked Welcome to Yorkshire for additional information on its plans. This time a more detailed budget was provided, including a request for “core funding” for Welcome to Yorkshire.

“At this stage there is an inevitable shortfall,” the tourism agency’s note admitted. “Welcome to Yorkshire lost their Government grant during the bidding process, and need core funding to be able to lead the relationship with the (Tour de France organiser) ASO and to manage the event.”

But UK Sport’s board noted “the increased deficit since the paperwork shared at the last meeting”, and were “concerned the deficit could increase going forward”.

The officials were clear - the plans lacked clarity, their questions had not been answered, and the event could not be funded in its present form.

The decision sparked crisis talks throughout the spring and early summer - until at last, in July, a funding deal was agreed.