IT is not an over-exaggeration to describe today’s Welcome to Yorkshire board meeting as the most important in its 10-year history if the county’s £9bn a year tourism industry is to continue to flourish.
This tourism body is still reeling from chief executive Sir Gary Verity’s resignation four weeks ago and the growing fallout as chairman Ron McMillan, a former senior partner at a ‘big four’ accountancy firm, steps down amid the fallout.
Yet this crisis also presents an opportunity if board members consider their response from the public’s perspective after initially trying, naively and misguidedly, to claim it was ‘business as usual’.
It is not. Though residents remain supportive of WTY staff, and the dynamism of their work, Sir Gary’s “errors of judgement” over a reported £40,000 expenses claim have perturbed many – this was taxpayers’ money – and disturbing allegations have also emerged about his behaviour towards staff.
However, given that these matters bring into question WTY’s governance protocols and disciplinary processes, Easter – the traditional start of the tourism season – must also signal the start of renewal to avoid more councils withholding money and compromising the organisation’s current work.
To begin to restore trust, the board should commit to total transparency and publish the terms of reference being finalised today for the two inquiries which are due to investigate Sir Gary’s conduct. Agendas and minutes of all future board meetings should be published in full. And a newly-configured board also needs a very honest conversation about its own make-up before the next chair looks to recruit a new chief executive and consider whether WTY’s focus needs to be redefined.
After all, the fact that nine out of the 10 remaining attendees at board meetings, once Mr McMillan’s resignation has been tendered, will be male again points to an organisation in need of renewal if it is to become more diverse and meet the best interests of its staff – and the taxpayers of this county. To paraphrase one concerned council official, WTY cannot continue to be run like “a gentleman’s club” when its work is dependent on public finance.