Every expense claim by current and former members of Welcome to Yorkshire’s senior management team and board made in the past six years will be scrutinised by forensic accountants in the wake of ex-chief executive Sir Gary Verity’s scandal-hit departure, it has been announced.
The board of the embattled tourism agency agreed the terms of reference for the review this afternoon at a meeting where chairman Ron McMillan confirmed his resignation after coming under pressure to quit from local council leaders.
The ordering of the inquiry - and a parallel investigation into the management culture at Welcome to Yorkshire - follows Sir Gary’s resignation on health grounds on March 22 after allegations were made about his expense claims and behaviour towards staff.
Sir Gary is reported to have repaid £40,000 to the tourism agency, which is a private company but receives millions in taxpayer funding, after making “errors of judgement” with his expenses.
BDO, one of the largest accountancy firms in the UK, will conduct the expenses investigation to establish “the classification of and the rationale for” expense claims before making a public report of its findings. The six-year time frame is understood to have been set as it is the legal time limit companies have to potentially reclaim money from inappropriate claims, with the terms of reference allowing BDO to examine older claims if deemed necessary.
Earlier this week, West Yorkshire Police said it would not be launching its own investigation into Sir Gary’s expense claims but expected to be kept informed of developments with the independent inquiry and to be informed immediately “if at any time evidence is identified of criminal offences”.
Leeds-based solicitors Clarion will conduct a parallel investigation into behaviours and procedures at WTY and intend to interview board members and managers, as well as speaking to current staff and “any former employees who may meet confidentially to share any experiences or views that they may wish”.
It is intended both investigations will be completed by June.
Sheffield and Hull councils have suspended funding for WTY until the investigations are complete, while Wakefield Council also threatened to do so earlier this week unless Mr McMillan resigned.
WTY has also committed to making “appropriate” future board meeting documents, including agendas, papers and minutes, public after coming under pressure to increase transparency.
Current board member Keith Stewart has been appointed interim chair following Mr McMillan’s departure.
He said: “We’d like to thank Ron for his time as chair and helping to oversee a hugely successful period in the growth of the Yorkshire tourism brand and the prosperity it has brought to the region, adding over £1bn in 2016-17 alone.
“Now the appropriate investigations are in place, he felt it was the right time to step down to allow the organisation to move forward, this was supported by the board. Welcome to Yorkshire is committed to making any changes which may be needed to help rebuild trust in the organisation, to support our team and continue to deliver world-class events in the region.
“This year we have an incredibly ambitious programme of events and will once again focus the eyes of the world on Yorkshire. We want to be able to continue this work long in to the future as part of an organisation that everyone can be rightfully proud of.”
Board shake-up planned
The make-up of Welcome to Yorkshire’s board, which currently only includes one woman, is expected to be dramatically altered in coming months.
Interim chair Keith Stewart said: “We recognise the need, moving beyond the immediate short-term, to focus on recruiting an external chair together with improving the diversity of the board.”
Mr Stewart added: “It is imperative for everyone involved, from our team to our stakeholders and the wider members, that we look to foster a positive culture of leadership and support so that we ensure that we can reflect internally what has been done so well externally.”