Tourism is reportedly worth £9bn to the Yorkshire economy, according to Welcome to Yorkshire, and has grown by £1bn in just 12 months. It’s big business and with big business comes sagas and the Gary Verity saga rumbles on.
I joined the Yorkshire Tourist Board in 2009 to launch a new version of the organisation which many felt had lost its way. We launched Welcome to Yorkshire at the Royal Armouries in 2009 with nearly 1,000 people there. ‘Nearly’ is an important word here. From the beginning it was clear no one was really counting.
WTY was a small, talented team of about 30 people who worked incredibly hard. There’s no disputing, Gary Verity had a way of getting people to go the extra mile.
In the beginning we had a clear mission; to increase the tourism economy in Yorkshire and create jobs. We had clear service level agreements. A contract with anyone who gave us money which clearly said what they’d get in return.
We wanted to work with the big companies such as the hotel chains but not forget Mrs Smith who ran a B&B. There was something of an office mantra – if it didn’t clearly create or sustain a tourism job you couldn’t go to the meeting or spend the money. We were all fired up and on a mission.
Then came the Tour de France Yorkshire Grand Départ in 2014. For thousands it was a great weekend, some still say one of the best weekends of their lives and it did much to influence people’s perceptions of Yorkshire around the world, but questions still need to be answered about the true cost of the event and the true return on investment.
For me this is where it all started to go wrong. I decided to leave in 2015. I did not pursue a payout and I did not sign a Non Disclosure Agreement – also known as a gagging order. These were used at WTY and it’s interesting to know how many NDAs a company has issued but often impossible to find out.
As we’ve all seen too often, things can go horribly wrong when a company boss, whether they run a high street chain or a media empire think they’re so successful they can do anything with no accountability to shareholders, funders or the public.
There were lots of clues that all was not as it should be at WTY. We lost a number of good board members, nearly every head of department moved on and Gary’s PAs never lasted much more than a year.
Despite Gary being warned many times to mend his ways, including a final disciplinary warning being issued and being ordered to go on a behavioural management course, the unacceptable and, in my opinion, cruel behaviour towards staff continued.
The extravagances became ludicrous – chauffeur-driven cars, helicopters hired, stays in luxury hotels and eye-wateringly expensive meals. I’m sorry to say I did too little for too long. I convinced myself we were doing great things for Yorkshire – I started to believe the hype I was helping to generate. I convinced myself that it was worth it. Only I wasn’t paying the price; it was being paid by the staff he bullied and the taxpayer whose money he spent.
Gary Verity has apologised for his behaviour and repaid over £25,000 in expenses claimed in error on top on his £243,000 salary. I think many are asking why senior figures in Yorkshire, in the media, in local government and in business, did nothing.
The team at WTY has done some fantastic work. I think they’ve made a real difference to how Yorkshire is perceived around the world and helped the county’s tourism sector, that doesn’t need to change. It’s not the time to stop being a WTY member or stop funding. The answer is for the whole county to support the team so they can continue doing a good job.
However, lots of people got caught up in the cult of Gary. Let’s just all beware of anyone who wants to make Yorkshire great again.