Second council pulls plug on Welcome to Yorkshire tourism funding
Confirmation of Hambleton Council’s decision comes after Ryedale Council broke ranks and said that it could not justify using taxpayers’ money to bail out the troubled tourism body.
Directors of Welcome to Yorkshire will meet later today to discuss its financial position after Peter Box, its chair, wrote to all councils on Tuesday requesting a further £1.4m of public money – or that the board would have to consider closure options.
The money will support WTY’s existing work in the current financial year until a new funding structure can be put in place. His letter, published by The Yorkshire Post yesterday, made clear that all local authorities were expected to contribute.
Ryedale Council leader Keane Duncan responded by saying that his council would not make its share – £33,000 – available. Likening it to a “gun held to our heads”, he suggested that it might be best if WTY folded after a tumultuous year so a new tourism body can make a fresh start.
Now Hambleton Council is to withhold £53,000. “I’m not prepared to throw more money at something at this time without seeing more evidence on where the money is going to go,” said leader Mark Robson.
“I’m of the same opinion as Keane. Ultimately the share from Hambleton was going to be in excess of £53,000, plus £10,000 membership. I am not prepared to put something into an organisation that I am not sure will be around in the next financial year.
“I would rather throw the money into something that will benefit the residents of Hambleton moving forward as it will take a long time to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I would like to think that I can have a mechanism that can help our tourism industry within Hambleton. I have to look after the residents of Hambleton District.”
Though he accepted WTY was a “worldwide brand”, he said he wasn’t sure what the body was doing to help B&B owners and the grassroots tourism industry now because of the organisation’s continuing state of turmoil.
Coun Robson added: “We haven’t taken this decision lightly. It is a poor state of affairs when one, if not more, councils can’t work with Welcome to Yorkshire because they don’t know how their money will be spent. This has been coming for a long time.”
When asked if WTY’s latest demand required the unanimous support of all 20 local authorities, Mr Box told this newspaper: “It depends how much support there is across Yorkshire for Welcome to Yorkshire to survive.”
The organisation has been mired in controversy and scandal since the resignation in March 2019 of former chief executive Sir Gary Verity – the man who brought Tour de France cycling to the county six years ago.
It had already been given an extra year to repay a £500,000 loan from North Yorkshire County Council before being deprived of £1m of business rates funding from North and West Yorkshire because councils in the two areas have seen a loss of income due to Covid-19. WTY’s decision to suspend membership fees created another shortfall of £400,000.
Now West Yorkshire councils are being asked to fund £550,000 while the combined figure for North Yorkshire is £450,000. South Yorkshire is being asked for £300,000 with £100,000 coming from East Yorkshire.
No details were available on how these amounts were calculated, but Mr Box’s letter was sent on Tuesday just as the Prime Minister was giving the green light for parts of the hospitality and leisure industries to reopen on July 4.
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