Embattled tourism agency Welcome to Yorkshire is to consider recommendations that it should publish details of all spending over £250 and open up board meetings to public scrutiny following the resignation of ex-chief executive Sir Gary Verity after an expenses scandal.
Richard Cooper, a board member and leader of Harrogate Borough Council, has suggested the measures as a way of restoring public confidence in the private company, which receives around half of its annual £4m funding from the public sector.
Coun Cooper told The Yorkshire Post the changes could be made prior to the conclusion of two independent inquiries that have been ordered into the circumstances of Verity’s departure - one relating to expense claims and the other connected to the former chief executive’s behaviour towards staff.
A Welcome to Yorkshire spokesperson said today: “The board is considering Richard Cooper’s recommendations and welcomes feedback from any of its directors.”
Coun Cooper said: “Being a major recipient of public funds, the public needs confidence that not only is WtY successful for Yorkshire but that it is a fit custodian of public funds and an organisation that supports its staff and treats them with respect.”
Earlier this week, Hull City Council leader Stephen Brady resigned from the board in protest at being ‘kept in the dark’ about an internal investigation into allegations against Verity which were raised with the organisation in January prior to the chief executive’s departure last month. Verity is reported to have repaid £40,000 after "errors of judgement" in relation to expense claims.
Coun Cooper said he agreed with Coun Brady’s comments. He said he had only found out about the issues in a phone call from board ‘observer’ Tom Riordan, who is also chief executive of Leeds City Council, on March 15. He said he was only given full details of what had happened in a teleconference on March 21, the day before Sir Gary’s resignation.
Coun Cooper said: “Welcome to Yorkshire receive a lot of council funding and it has done many great things to promote Yorkshire. The team has brought tens of millions into the Yorkshire economy over the past ten years. .
“Stephen Brady quit the board because he felt like he had been kept in the dark. I understand and agree with his comments. I feel that there should have been a wider board discussion of all the issues now coming to light at an early stage.
“Time only moves in one direction however and now the focus needs to be on what happens next. Aspects of its governance have been called into question and it is right that they are investigated by independent organisations.
"But there are things that can be done ahead of any independent reports. Board meetings can become public meetings. Agendas and minutes should henceforth be published and available to the public. Councils have to publish spending when it is over £250 – organisations in receipt of significant amounts of public money should do the same.
“I believe that the public can have confidence in the Welcome to Yorkshire team because of the unquestionable success that team has delivered. But confidence in the governance, HR and financial procedures has rightly been brought in to question.
“That is why maximum openness – both internally and externally – and inquiries with findings which are made public to all is critical in restoring that confidence. Following discussions at board level I feel confident that this will be the way forward.”