Council bosses discussed the possibility of closing troubled tourism agency Welcome to Yorkshire entirely but decided it still had "a role to play”, new chairman Peter Box has confirmed.
At a meeting of the North and West Yorkshire business rates joint committee, made up of local council leaders, on Monday it was revealed that a “managed closedown” of the agency had been put forward as an option by an independent review of its finances ordered ahead of a decision on whether £1m of new public sector funding should be granted.
But the meeting was told by Kirklees Council chief executive Jacqui Gedman, who is providing strategic support to WTY as it continues to search for a new chief executive, that it was “more cost-effective” to keep it open as the WTY board had said it would cost £3m to shut down.
Coun Box, who was subsequently appointed as the organisation’s new chairman after council leaders demanded the replacement of interim chair Keith Stewart, said today that local authority bosses collectively believe Welcome to Yorkshire does have a viable future.
Coun Box said there had been a “fairly strong consensus” among council leaders that the organisation should continue.
“It was agreed by everybody that Welcome to Yorkshire should continue. But when we said it should continue, it would be on the basis of making sure improvements are achieved in a timely fashion. Part of my role is to make sure that happens.”
It comes after it emerged the privately-run tourism agency had recently taken a £500,000 loan from North Yorkshire County Council to cover what it has termed “one-off costs”.
They are believed to relate in part to the costs of two independent investigations ordered in the wake of ex-chief executive Sir Gary Verity’s departure in March on health grounds in the midst of bullying and expenses investigations.
“It has clearly been knocked off track by recent events, everybody accepts that,” Coun Box said. “The question is, does Welcome to Yorkshire still have a role to play? I believe it does but things have to be achieved in a different way.”
Coun Box added: “The staff of Welcome to Yorkshire have had a pretty tough time of it. I feel desperately sorry for anybody who is in an organisation which has that uncertainty about its future. Hopefully, the decision made on Monday about funding will end that uncertainty. I will be meeting the staff on Thursday and I will be making the point they have done a great job but all of us need to do things differently.”
He said another key priority will be hiring a new chief executive. “What we have to ensure is that the person we get is the best available and shares the vision we all share for Yorkshire. We want to sell our county to people but we want to do it in a way that is open and transparent.”
Peer criticises appointment
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Scriven has criticised the appointment of Peter Box as Welcome to Yorkshire’s new chairman.
The former Sheffield Council leader, who has been an outspoken critic of the agency’s leadership, said on Twitter that Coun Box was in a “conflicted” position as “he makes decisions to give money to a body he now chairs”.
Lord Scriven added: “He is a former board member so comes with [the] baggage of previous failings.”
He has called for a professional in the tourism industry to be appointed as a temporary chairman instead.