The West and North Yorkshire business rates joint committee met in Leeds this afternoon to discuss its funding for projects in the region, one of which was ongoing payments to the tourism agency, worth an estimated £1m a year.
While members admitted there were “ongoing concerns” around the organisation amid investigations into its former boss Sir Gary Verity, they agreed to make the latest quarterly payments. However, councils warned they would be keeping a close eye on the organisation.
The meeting was told that a proposed £320,000 annual subscription was due to go to Welcome to Yorkshire. It follows a merging of the West and North Yorkshire business rates pools, as subscriptions last year from the the Leeds City Region pool was £167,000, while the North Yorkshire pool paid £156,000.
The meeting was also told of a grant payment to the organisation, which amounted to £663,000 from Leeds City Region and £250,000 from North Yorkshire.
A council officer added: “The end of the grant agreements was in 2018/19, so Welcome to Yorkshire are seeking a similar sum with regards to 2019/20, circa £1m.
“It is assumed within their business plan projections.
“I have received this morning a copy of a letter from the finance director of Welcome to Yorkshire with regard to reassurances around the organisation.
“It says there will be greater accountability in future.”
The company said this week that investigations have concluded but the reports are yet to be finalised before details can be made public. The full findings of the expenses review are to be shared with West Yorkshire Police.
Chairing the meeting, leader of Calderdale Council Tim Swift said: “There are ongoing concerns and issues there. I think clearly we want to ensure some certainty for existing staff and operations there. But there are still findings we are awaiting from the independent review.
“While we agree the money in terms of budgeting for this, we should be quite cautious.”
He said they should keep payments to Welcome To Yorkshire under review.
Harrogate councillor and Welcome to Yorkshire board member Richard Cooper said: “I can offer my personal reassurance, without breaking any confidentiality, that there is not only a willingness and an eagerness to ensure there is correct oversight and accountability that things are done more in the public arena, to ensure money is being spent well and the organisation is run well.
“The organisation recognises there have been some severe problems, but it is committed to getting over those problems, and it needs the support to continue.
“The organisation is doing a really good job in difficult circumstances.”
Confusion then arose among members as to whether they were agreeing a quarterly instalment of the annual payments to Welcome to Yorkshire or if it was for the full year.
It was later confirmed that the payment agreed was only an instalment of the full amount mentioned previously, and that the board would reconvene on the publication of an investigation into Welcome to Yorkshire’s finances.
The meeting was also told that Welcome to Yorkshire was putting together a draft business plan that would be available in the next “four to six weeks”.
Following the meeting, Coun Swift released a statement: “Today the new North and West Yorkshire Business Rate Pool met. At that meeting, the committee agreed to support the payment of the next instalment due to Welcome to Yorkshire.
“This enables the organisation to continue to operate pending the outcome of two recently commissioned investigations into the organisation.
“The committee awaits the outcome of these investigations and will consider their implications and our next steps at that time.
“The committee thanks the current staff team for their ongoing commitment to tourism in Yorkshire.”