Council leaders to decide whether to take Welcome to Yorkshire into public sector control

Yorkshire council leaders and mayors will discuss whether to bring the region’s tourism agency Welcome to Yorkshire under public sector control at a crunch meeting next month.

Members of the Yorkshire Leaders’ Board, involving leaders of the region’s councils and the area’s two metro mayors, Dan Jarvis and Tracy Brabin, are to meet privately on the morning of November 18 to discuss the future of the troubled tourism agency.

The meeting will take place just hours before Welcome to Yorkshire holds its own board meeting in the afternoon.

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Asked if the council leaders would consider taking WtY into public sector control, North Yorkshire County Council leader and Welcome to Yorkshire board member Carl Les said: “I want them to have that discussion.”

North Yorkshire County Council leader and Welcome to Yorkshire board member Carl Les.

He said he intended to set out in the meeting some of the benefits and challenges that faced the former Yorkshire Tourist Board, the publicly run organisation that was replaced by Welcome to Yorkshire in 2009.

While Welcome to Yorkshire is a private limited company, it receives millions in public funding from local councils.

It follows a period of crisis for WtY, with the announcement of chief executive James Mason’s departure resulting in half the eight-person board resigning.

Chairman Peter Box, a former leader of Wakefield Council, had announced he would step down at the organisation’s AGM on November 1 but dramatically announced on Thursday night that the AGM was being postponed until a “review” of the organisation’s future had taken place with council leaders and other stakeholders, like tourism firms.

Coun Les said the meeting with council leaders was central to determining the organisation’s future.

He added: “It is important to talk to stakeholders to find out what they want from a Destination Marketing Organisation but the important part is to have the conversation with the local authorities who have put in the majority of the funding for many years.”

Government 'can help with process'

Coun Les said clarity from Government over the future funding of tourism agencies is needed to help inform the decision about the future of Welcome to Yorkshire.

But while Welcome to Yorkshire chairman Peter Box suggested at a board meeting that a review of the organisation’s future will assess whether it can meet the criteria of the De Bois review, the Government is actually yet to accept the recommendations of the review and set any of its proposals into motion.

Coun Les said: “We need some clarity from Government about whether they are going to accept the de Bois review.

“I’m hopeful that we will get an idea from Rishi Sunak’s Budget and the Spending Review.”

With council leaders meeting on November 18 to determine the future direction of Welcome to Yorkshire, Coun Les said he did not want to share his views on what should happen publicly in advance of the meeting but said he expects a debate on whether the tourism agency moves back into public sector control.

“I have been around the visitor economy all my working life and my hotel was a member of the Yorkshire Tourist Board,” he said.

“In the Tourist Board days, all local authorities were represented on the board, there was good communication with the private sector members and there was a great degree of openness and probity that the public sector brings to decision-making.

“But the downside was there was little money to invest and councils were in competition with each other. You used to get campaigns saying ‘Come to the Moors and not the Dales’ or even worse, ‘Don’t go to their Dales, come to or Dales’.”

He said the advent of Welcome to Yorkshire had a broader focus on bringing big events to the region.

Coun Les said one difference with the past is that the Yorkshire Leaders’ Board has encouraged improved working together.

“It is now collaboration not competition. Yorkshire leaders cooperate and are all looking to promote Yorkshire.”

Peter Box 'was asked to stay on'

Peter Box’s surprise decision to stay on as chairman was “at the request of the board”, Welcome to Yorkshire has claimed.

The agency currently only has four board members and two of them - Mr Box and Dan Bates - were due to stand down at a now postponed AGM. The company’s rules state at least four non-executive directors and one executive director is required to hold board meetings.

A spokesperson said: “The Welcome to Yorkshire Board has agreed that the AGM be postponed until the consultation has been completed. It’s the board’s intention that the consultation should start quickly and be completed as soon as possible.

"At the request of the board Peter Box agreed to remain as Chair until the consultation is complete and will step down from the role at the AGM. The date for the AGM will be announced once the date for completion of the consultation is known.”

Mr Box did not respond to request for comment.

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