James Mason: 'I'm leaving Welcome to Yorkshire with my head held high'

Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive James Mason has said he is “leaving with my head held high” after his shock resignation from the tourism agency less than two years after taking over.

James Mason is leaving Welcome to Yorkshire.

Mr Mason told The Yorkshire Post that he was proud of his record after taking over an organisation that had been in crisis after becoming mired in an expenses scandal investigated by police and major financial difficulties prior to his arrival.

“We have achieved a lot during an incredibly difficult two years,” he said. “To still be here is a huge achievement - I was asked to steady the ship, reduce some huge costs and reinvigorate the brand. We did that along with some really strong campaigns.”

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It was announced yesterday that Mr Mason will be leaving WtY - which is a private company but receives millions in funding from local councils - for an unspecified new job in the New Year. He will be remaining at WtY until October 22 and chairman Peter Box thanked him for his “commitment and energy” in the role in a statement announcing the departure.

But WtY refused to confirm details about some of the circumstances surrounding his resignation.

Following rumours from a number of sources last week about Mr Mason’s future, Welcome to Yorkshire had confirmed in a statement that a complaint had been received and investigations were “ongoing”. No further details of what the complaint involved were revealed.

Following the announcement of Mr Mason’s resignation yesterday, The Yorkshire Post asked Welcome to Yorkshire for further details about the investigation and whether it had any bearing on the resignation.

A spokesperson said: “Welcome to Yorkshire can confirm that all complaints are taken seriously by the organisation and its board members. As a matter of principle Welcome to Yorkshire do not comment on any allegations made against any individual.”

Mr Mason said it would not be right to discuss the details of any complaint but said there is “no link” to his departure.

“I have been considering other opportunities that have been presented to me for some time,” he said.

“What I will say is that I haven’t done anything wrong and I haven’t faced any disciplinary action, nor will I. I’ll be continuing as chief executive until I move on next month.

“There is no link here between the two. I am still committed to the organisation until that notice period ends before I take on my new role in the new year. There is no disciplinary action taken against me and I can leave with my head held high.”

Mr Mason was appointed in January 2020 to turn around the fortunes of the troubled organisation, which had become mired in an expenses scandal investigated by police and major financial difficulties prior to his arrival.

He was only the second chief executive in the organisation’s history following on from Sir Gary Verity, who resigned in March 2019 on health grounds amidst allegations about expenses spending and his behaviour towards staff.

Independent inquiries ordered by Welcome to Yorkshire and completed before Mr Mason’s arrival subsequently found a lack of clear spending policies meant accountants were unable to determine whether almost £1m worth of expenses were “reasonable and proportionate”.

Sir Gary paid back £44,000 to Welcome to Yorkshire and a police investigation into the matter was closed in 2020 with a decision to take no further action.

A parallel investigation into the management culture at Welcome to Yorkshire - following bullying allegations against Sir Gary - found employees he had “fallen short” of the highest performance and leadership standards expected of a chief executive.

Sir Gary said after the twin inquiries that all expenses had been signed off by the chairman and audit committee. In terms of his behaviour, a spokesman said “he accepts his passion to succeed may on occasion not have been in-step with present day cultural norms, albeit many of the claims made by some of the individuals were wildly wide of the mark”.

Welcome to Yorkshire subsequently took a £500,000 loan from North Yorkshire County Council in September 2019 after coming close to being unable to pay staff.

The organisation put out a further plea to local councils for £1.4m in emergency funding in June 2020 after the pandemic further hit its finances. In January this year, one year into taking over as chief executive, Mr Mason admitted the organisation had been “fire-fighting” as it made a wave of redundancies to cut £1m from its wage bill.

“It has taken a lot out of me,” he said at the time.

Under Mr Mason’s leadership, Welcome to Yorkshire launched a campaign to promote Yorkshire as the “walking capital of the world” and there had been hopes that a cultural festival intended to take place alongside the Tour de Yorkshire next year would still be able to go ahead despite the race’s cancellation.

Earlier this month, it was announced that the Tour de Yorkshire cycling race, which is jointly organised by Welcome to Yorkshire and French media group ASO, was being called off for the third year in a row.

While the 2020 and 2021 cancellations were Covid-related, a failure to reach financial agreement on how much Yorkshire public sector bodies should pay to fund the event was the reason for the 2022 race being called off.

Fiona Gardham, owner of the House at Hawes bed and breakfast, said Mr Mason had been “a breath of fresh air after the turmoil of the Gary Verity era”.

She added: “I can’t help but feel Welcome to Yorkshire and those that it serves will be poorer for his departure and am sad he could not have been persuaded to stay.”

Mr Mason said he could not currently discuss his new job but added that “all will be revealed in due course”.

Board meeting to determine 'next steps'

Welcome to Yorkshire will hold a board meeting to determine its “next steps” following the announcement of Mr Mason’s departure.

A statement from chairman Peter Box said: “We would like to thank James for the commitment and energy he has demonstrated during a particularly turbulent time for tourism and for the organisation. When James joined as chief executive almost two years ago there were many challenges to deal with.

"A positive plan was put in place to continue showcasing Yorkshire to the world and despite the pandemic adding a new and unexpected level of challenges for the tourism industry, James tackled all issues head-on and worked tirelessly.”

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