Formed when the economy plunged into recession, Yorkshire’s standing in the world is much enhanced thanks to the tireless work of all staff at the tourism body. This should not be overlooked and the findings absolve them of malice.
Yet it does not excuse, or justify, the treatment of these hardworking people – or the absence of the most basic HR policies, and safeguards, which are standard at all responsible employers.
Quite astonishingly, the reports found a disregard for health and safety and an oppressive culture that reflects as badly on WTY’s management team and board of directors as the scandal over the claiming of expenses and the absence of proper scrutiny.
Behaviour of this ilk would shame the worst-run councils and public sector bodies. It is now for West Yorkshire Police to decide if there is any case to answer.
For even though the now departed Sir Gary repaid tens of thousands of pounds when he quit in March, it is the lack of clarity about the amounts – and items – in question which Yorkshire must be told about.
After all, this is taxpayers’ funding. Half of WTY’s £4m a year budget comes from local authorities, a point that the tourism body continues to disregard as it refuses calls to comply with Freedom of Information legislation to begin to rebuild lost trust.
Even though agendas and minutes of board meetings are now being published as part of WTY’s new-found commitment to transparency, including all expenses incurred in excess of £250, details of the issues discussed at the June 24 meeting have not yet been posted online – presumably they will soon emerge.
And the apology issued by Keith Stewart, the organisation’s interim chairman, simply does not adequately reflect the seriousness of this situation.
It should not have taken a scandal such as this for a WTY chairman to be given responsibility for signing off expenses claimed by senior managers – and for guidelines on expenditure to be put in place.
Yet only now is WTY putting in place measures to limit credit card use – the suggestion being that there were no restrictions previously – and the introduction of a ‘missing receipt declaration’ form after the report uncovered “a lack of documentary evidence” is only to be completed by next month.
Along with other measures still pending, such as ‘entertainment policy’ to cover hospitality costs, it will alarm taxpayers to learn that the financial checks and balances were so ineffective and patently inadequate for so long.
It is now clear that in his pursuit of world class tourism events for his home county, basic standards of operating procedures and business practice were sacrificed by the organisation’s leader.
However, while WTY’s staff deserve support as they pick up the pieces, the more fundamental question, moving forward, will be about the organisation’s future. It intends to redefine its “purpose, vision and values” by the end of the year – but, frankly, this is a matter for its public and private sector stakeholders.
Why? Because the good, honest people of Yorkshire are being asked to fund a private business which can then choose how it spends that money – be it on international bike races or the Chelsea Flower Show.
They are also being expected to support an organisation with flawed financial and HR systems, no CEO, an ineffective, representative board, and without the confidence of so many smaller tourism businesses that it must represent. As those deserving stakeholders decide whether the WTY response goes far enough – some senior council chiefs indicate that it does not – the key question now is whether Welcome to Yorkshire has the trust of the county in order to continue.
If it does not, what next for Welcome to Yorkshire?