This follows chief executive James Mason’s resignation, the timing coinciding with an internal disciplinary process which has been handled in such a way that highly-regarded board members, like Piece Hall boss Nicky Chance-Thompson, have also chosen to leave.
Central to this appears to be veteran former Wakefield Council leader Peter Box who promised, on being appointed WTY chair in October 2019, a “new focus on honesty, transparency and integrity” – words that now look rather hollow in lieu of the secrecy surrounding the latest events at an agency still predominantly funded by the public purse.
It’s also a test that Mr Mason set himself on his appointment. “I understand the need for transparency going forward,” he stated after being chosen to succeed the disgraced Sir Gary Verity. Why the mystery now over his exit?
And when local councils threatened to pull the plug on funding in the summer of 2020, North Yorkshire County Council leader Carl Les conceded to this newspaper that WTY had a year to prove itself worthy of the trust of taxpayers. Recent events would suggest that it has not.
Now Coun Les, and Mr Box, will be amongst a depleted group of board members participating in an emergency meeting next week – one that is being held in private – to discuss the next steps in the wake of Mr Mason’s departure and the critical assertions made in Ms Chance-Thompson’s withering resignation letter.
For the record, this scandal is not the fault of talented WTY employees doing their best to support a £9bn a year tourism industry that is integral to Yorkshire’s wider economy.
Blame solely rests with a leadership team that has allowed its painstaking progress stabilising WTY’s management, governance and finances after the Verity scandals to be undone like this.
Now WTY’s future appears to hinge on the next moves of Mr Box at a time when he has become very remiss of the commitments that he made to taxpayers – and his agency’s private sector supporters – when he took on the role.
If he remains in place, it is difficult to see how he will be in a position, against this backdrop, to recruit the very best tourism and marketing leaders to fill the current vacuum.
If he, too, departs the scene, as some key figures now counsel in private, will it be possible to save Welcome to Yorkshire – or will a new tourism body have to be formed and funded from scratch when rival destinations are already forging ahead with their marketing and staycation strategies for 2022 and beyond?
Either way, all those involved with Welcome to Yorkshire need to remember that a £9bn industry is at stake here – and that their primary focus needs to be determining how best to champion tourism here, support all those whose livelihoods depend on a successful marketing strategy and win back the trust of taxpayers.
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