Welcome to Yorkshire increases its subscription fee for councils by 45 per cent

Councils are set to consider whether to help continue keeping Welcome to Yorkshire (WtY) afloat with public funding as it emerged the troubled tourism body has upped its subscription fee for local authorities by some 45 per cent.

Leading councillors have responded by calling for the stream of public money that has been handed to WtY to be permanently plugged or for a decision over this year’s funding to be postponed until after options for the governance, finance and the future direction of tourism marketing for the region are presented to the Yorkshire Leaders Board next month.

The tourism body has admitted making “big mistakes” in the way it spent taxpayers’ money, including spending more than £430,000 removing and investigating its former chief executive, Sir Gary Verity following concerns over his expenses claims.

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In recent years numerous local authorities have threatened to withhold funding from WtY, at a time that its finances have been hit hard by the pandemic.

Welcome to Yorkshire spent more than £430,000 removing and investigating its former chief executive, Sir Gary Verity, following concerns over his expenses claims

Lord Scriven, the former leader of Sheffield City Council, has said WtY needs to adopt a self-funded model.

Nevertheless, in October, WtY said it had sufficient funds to operate until March 31, assuming all committed subscriptions for 2021/22 are paid.

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An officers’ report to a meeting of Richmondshire District Council’s corporate board on Tuesday (January 11) states the subscription fee for local authorities was initially “modest” at £1,300 a year until 2012, when the rate was raised to £10,000.

The cost of the subscription for next year has risen to £14,515, which WtY has justified on the basis that there had been no increase in the six previous years.

The report states council officers had asked WtY to provide a Richmondshire-specific plan to illustrate activities the local authority could rely upon being delivered in return for the subscription, but instead the tourism body had produced a six-month review of the activity on its website and elsewhere.

WtY said between April and October last year Richmondshire received 45 posts across its social media channels with 17,045 impressions. It said during that period there were also a combined total of 266,094 page views about Richmondshire on its Yorkshire.com website.

Richmondshire councillor and North Yorkshire County Council opposition leader Stuart Parsons said WtY’s page views for Richmondshire were far inferior to the privately-run Richmond Online tourism website, which was receiving one million hits a month.

He said: “What have we been getting out of Welcome to Yorkshire? Nothing but scandal. Originally it was supposed to be immediately self-funding, but it has always relied on massive public contributions.

“Councils should not be giving any more money to an organisation that has not demonstrated it is making an effective difference to our lives and our economy.”

The county council’s finance boss, Councillor Gareth Dadd said the authority would examine any request for funding from WtY “in the light of its performance and our ability to pay”.

He added: “There is most definitely an advantage of having a tourism marketing body.”