Sir Gary Verity left Welcome to Yorkshire in so much turmoil that Labour council leader had to take over troubled tourism body: Tom Richmond

RURAL Yorkshire – the heartbeat of the county’s £9bn a year visitor economy – will be rightly suspicious of the longstanding leader of a Labour metropolitan council taking charge of the area’s tourism body.

Welcome to Yorkshire is still dealing with the fallout from the departure of Sir Gary Verity earlier this year.

It should not be. It could be its only saviour. Local government grandee Peter Box CBE has, over two decades, put Wakefield on the visitor map and The Hepworth, amongst other projects, is testament to his authority’s ability to combine public and private sector expertise.

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And, frankly, Welcome to Yorkshire would now be close to going out of business if it wasn’t for council leaders taking control of the troubled organisation this week in return for releasing £1m – the next tranche of public funding.

Wakefield Council leader Peter Box is the new chair of Welcome to Yorkshire.

Unlike some, Coun Box was not a cheerleader for WTY under the regime of Sir Gary Verity who resigned as chief executive in March over his expenses and unacceptable behaviour towards staff.

Sceptical, even suspicious, of the benefits of towns and cities like Wakefield paying to host cycle races, he will need to order a cost-benefit analysis of the WTY’s major events from the Tour de Yorkshire to its sponsorship of the Ebor festival and annual presence at the Chelsea Flower Show to understand if the national and international media exposure justifies the expense. However the success of The Hepworth illustrates his open-mindedness.

But his primary purpose – as he admitted – is to preside over a “new focus on honesty, transparency and integrity” at an organisation which receives half of its £4m a year budget from local taxpayers.

I agree – and his intrinsic knowledge of local and regional government will be key to ensuring WTY meets these tests while still supporting the 225,000 people who work in the tourism sector here.

WTY had a chance to make amends after Verity left and failed because senior staff still acted as their own ‘judge and jury’.

Even though communications director Marie Christopher-Davey reported at the June board meeting that this year’s Tour de Yorkshire, held weeks after the Verity scandal broke, “was very useful both from a staff morale and from a public support for TDY perspective”, the same meeting heard about steps being taken to provide counselling and to put in place formal policies on sick pay and the booking of holidays. These failures – oversights is not a strong enough word – would not have been tolerated elsewhere.

And the August minutes still show huge gaps in HR processes like a need to ‘provide narrative on current actual holidays v contracted holidays, introduce ‘Who’s off’ system, confirm booking process’ and – believe it or not – ‘review contracts and make fit for purpose’.

Scandals which would have seen public sector workers go on strike, the greater scandal is that these basic failings are only now coming to light after the most traumatic period in Welcome to Yorkshire’s 10-year history.

They explain why WTY cannot move forward until proper governance protocols are in place, and which also value staff who still work out of loyalty to the county to breaking point without receiving due credit or the reassurance of a HR policy which was fit for purpose.

That is why so much now rests on Peter Box’s ability to bring about cultural change and a vision for 2020 which also represents a fresh start. If not, Welcome to Yorkshire and all its good work will be history.

HERE’S another simple Saturday question – who will be Britain’s next Prime Minister?

A conundrum which could have been answered in the past with an educated guess is more ambiguous in these febrile times.

Yet, in researching The Yorkshire Post’s tribute to Betty Boothroyd to mark the 90th birthday of the former Speaker, I came across a speech by John Major, as PM, which makes the position very clear.

It was delivered on May 12, 1994, in the most tragic of circumstances when Speaker Boothroyd fought back tears in the Commons to confirm the passing of John Smith, the then Labour leader, from a heart attack.

And it prompted the most generous of tributes from the then Prime Minister who spoke warmly about a “courteous, fair minded and constructive” opponent and how they would share a drink – “sometimes tea, sometimes not tea” – to discuss private and confidential affairs of state.

He went on to say: “Under our constitution, the role of the Leader of the Opposition is unique. It is a vital role – not in government, but vital to the determination of the way in which we conduct our affairs and to the protection of people who oppose the Government on a range of issues.

“The Leader of the Opposition is in the anteroom of power, yet not in the seat of power itself.”

John Major concluded by saying that John Smith “trod that path for his party and his supporters in the country with skill and assurance that few have matched”.

The question now is whether Jeremy Corbyn passes that test – or not. And the answer may explain why Labour’s current leader has never been closer – or further away – from becoming our next Prime Minister if the Queen’s Speech is defeated or Brexit takes another twist.

For, if a John Smith-like figure was leading Labour now, I suspect the question would be purely hypothetical because the Tories would have been out of office before Boris Johnson came to power.

And that makes this weekend’s electoral dilemma for both the Government – and Labour – even more tantalising.