‘Progress made’ on Welcome to Yorkshire changes, report claims

Plans to revamp regional tourism agency Welcome to Yorkshire (WtY) have made “significant progress”, according to a report set to go before regional councillors next week.

The North and West Yorkshire business rates committee proposed a range of sweeping changes to the company – which is part-funded by money from local councils – back in October 2019.

Welcome to Yorkshire has endured a difficult year.

Welcome to Yorkshire has endured a difficult year.

Evidence was heard that the organisation had struggled with its finances following the resignation of Sir Gary Verity and subsequent investigations into the company.

A report set to go back before the committee next week claims progress has been made as a new chief executive, as well as new board members, have since been appointed.

It also claimed the publishing of its accounts dated to March 2019 was delayed due to the audit process being “put on hold” while investigations into the company’s finances continued.

The report was authored by Kirklees Council chief executive Jacqui Gedman, who was tasked with offering strategic support to the company. It states: “There has been significant progress on each of the conditions that were set by the North and West Yorkshire Business Rates Joint Committee in October 2019.

“Work to implement the recommendations and actions from the two independent reports that are contained within the Improvement Plan continues at pace, and a detailed report will be completed at the end of the financial year. An update report will come back to this meeting in April.

“The new chief executive and WtY Board now require time to focus on working with stakeholders to establish the strategic direction for the forthcoming period. It is anticipated that one of the topics that Yorkshire leaders will collaborate on in the coming year is tourism and the visitor economy; WtY has a vital role to play in that.”

The document added: “The publishing of the accounts, year ended March 31, 2019, was delayed due to the audit process being put on hold last year whilst independent investigations were carried out into the organisation’s expenses, governance, culture and management.”

It stated that the company hoped to have a new business plan in place by May 2019.

At a meeting in October 2019, the business rates panel agreed to make £1m of public funding available to Welcome to Yorkshire, after it was suggested the organisation was “reliant” on receiving the money.

Councillors agreed to make the funding available in three parts – for October 2019, December 2019 and February 2020 – provided the organisation could prove it was following the committee’s recommendations.

These included recruitment of a brand new board with a public sector appointee as chair, and for a new chief executive to be appointed as soon as possible.

The company announced shortly after the October meeting that former Wakefield Council leader Peter Box would take over as interim chairman.

In December 2019, WtY revealed that former Bradford City chief operating officer James Mason would be its new chief executive.

The report is set to be discussed by the North and West Yorkshire business rates committee at Wellington House, Leeds on Thursday, January 16.