More councils should follow the lead of Sheffield in suspending funding to Welcome to Yorkshire as the fallout from Sir Gary Verity’s scandal-hit departure as chief executive continues, a regional peer has said.
Lord Scriven, a Liberal Democrat peer and a former leader of Sheffield City Council, said today it would be “proper and correct” for other local authorities to follow the example of Sheffield, which has suspended its £50,000 annual membership of the tourism agency until investigations are completed into expenses claims made by Sir Gary.
The peer suggested suspending the Sheffield funding in his role as a city councillor at a meeting on Wednesday, with the idea agreed to by Labour council leader Julie Dore who said the authority would delay paying this year’s subscription cost “until we have a satisfactory response that Sheffield council taxpayers’ money has not been misappropriated”.
Welcome to Yorkshire, which is a private company but receives around half of its annual £4m income from the public purse, has ordered two independent investigations into Sir Gary’s expense claims and allegations of his behaviour towards staff, while West Yorkshire Police is determining whether a criminal probe needs to be launched.
Sir Gary resigned last month on health grounds after agreeing to reimburse tens of thousands of pounds in expenses after making “errors in judgement” regarding his claims. Council leaders in West and North Yorkshire on the Leeds City Region business rates pool have subsequently asked for an “urgent meeting” with Welcome to Yorkshire to set conditions on future funding.
Lord Scriven said: “Council leaders have got to begin to take care of taxpayers’ money in the same way they would with their own money. They wouldn’t hand over their own money to a company under a potential police investigation and two internal investigations taking place to see whether good governance and financial control was carried out.
“It would be absolutely proper and correct for all councils who contribute to suspend payments until they are assured that the board of Welcome to Yorkshire are up to the job and that the police are reassured no criminal activity has taken place.”
Speaking at Wednesday’s Welcome to Yorkshire anniversary conference prior to Sheffield Council’s announcement, agency board member Keith Stewart said the organisation still believed it retained the support of local councils. He said: “We want to continue working very closely with our friends in charge of the various councils across the region. We have had some fantastic messages of support during this very difficult time. We remain optimistic and positive about our ability to get funding from the various councils.
“Last year’s Tour de Yorkshire had nearly £100m of economic value to Yorkshire. We recognise what we bring to the party, we recognise we have got to learn lessons from what is currently going on and we want to remain with the partnerships we currently have.”
It comes as it was announced that Harrogate-based food and drink promoter Deliciouslyyorkshire is to merge operations with Welcome to Yorkshire, with the former brand becoming the image of the future food and drink activity across the two organisations.
Judy Bell, chair of deliciouslyorkshire, said “This merging of like-minded people, passionate and dedicated to the wonderful world of Yorkshire, is great news for our members.”
Council ‘will be kept updated on inquiries’
Welcome to Yorkshire has said it will keep officials at Sheffield Council updated on the progress of the independent investigations which are due to be launched.
A spokeswoman for the tourism agency, which ordered the inquiries earlier this week, said: “We have a strong relationship with Sheffield City Council and we will maintain an ongoing dialogue until the outcome of the investigations.
“It remains the priority for Welcome to Yorkshire to be able to successfully undertake the hugely ambitious programme of major international events planned for the remainder of 2019 and we thank our partners for their continued support.”