Council leaders demand urgent meeting with Welcome to Yorkshire bosses over funding after expenses scandal

There are question marks over public funding for Welcome to Yorkshire following Sir Gary Verity's recent departure.
There are question marks over public funding for Welcome to Yorkshire following Sir Gary Verity's recent departure.

Council leaders will hold an urgent meeting with Welcome to Yorkshire bosses over the future of taxpayers’ funding for the tourism agency in the wake of Sir Gary Verity’s departure amid allegations over expenses payments and claims of bullying of staff.

The Leeds City Region’s business rates pool board, which is made up of the leaders of seven local councils - Bradford, Calderdale, Harrogate, Kirklees, Leeds, Wakefield and York - has demanded a meeting to discuss what conditions its members will require to give further public money to the organisation.

Peer calls on police to investigate Gary Verity’s expenses

Sir Gary left his post as Welcome to Yorkshire’s chief executive on “health grounds” last month after he made what the organisation described as “errors of judgement” regarding his expenses at a “very difficult time for him and his family”. His sister died in January.

His departure came in addition to concerns being raised about his behaviour towards staff.

Welcome to Yorkshire said yesterday that a meeting with the council leaders will take place “as soon as possible”. The pool board, which distributes funds generated from business rates to help develop the local economy, provided £830,000 to Welcome to Yorkshire in 2018/19 alone.

Board papers discussed by the committee on Friday indicated that an initial £170,000 was being considered for 2019/20, with potential bids for future funding from Welcome to Yorkshire due to be made to a parallel business rates pool covering North and West Yorkshire.

Coun Tim Swift, the chairman of the Leeds City Region business rates pool board, said: “Any misuse of public funds is completely unacceptable. Welcome to Yorkshire is a limited company and decisions on executive pay and expenses are made by its board.

“The Leeds City Region business rates pool board is seeking an urgent meeting with the chair of the Welcome to Yorkshire board, to outline the defined and distinct conditions that will need to be in place for medium-term funding from the pool to be committed.

“We will also ask for reassurance on the rigour of the independent review announced by Welcome to Yorkshire’s board and for agreement on the timeline for it to be completed. Council leaders will use the opportunity of the results of this review to strengthen the accountability, transparency and diversity of the governance of public resources.

“The councils represented on the board will continue to support the Welcome to Yorkshire team to deliver the flagship events in the region and county.”

Meanwhile, a leading tourism expert has claimed that Welcome to Yorkshire is facing a watershed in its operations following the departure of Sir Gary.

Susan Briggs, the director of The Tourism Network, which advises hundreds of small businesses and tourism bodies, met with senior Welcome to Yorkshire officials yesterday. She has agreed to undertake consultancy work free of charge to look at the organisation’s communications and links with tourism businesses.

She said: “This is an opportunity to move forward and could well represent a watershed for Welcome to Yorkshire. There was a confidence, and some would say arrogance, while Gary was there.

“Perceptions need to change to show Welcome to Yorkshire is willing to listen rather than simply to lead the way.”

Conference to mark tenth anniversary looms

Welcome to Yorkshire’s board members will tomorrow face many leading figures within the region’s tourism industry for the first time since Sir Gary Verity’s resignation.

The organisation will mark the 10th anniversary since its official launch with a major conference, Y19, at The Royal Armouries in Leeds tomorrow.

The event will attempt to move on from Sir Gary’s shock departure by highlighting major events planned for the region this year, including the UCI Road World Championships in September and Yorkshire Sculpture International – the largest festival of its kind in the UK which starts in June.

Tourism is now worth £8bn to Yorkshire’s economy, which is £1bn higher than in 2011.