Councils refuse to reveal details of Welcome to Yorkshire investigation into ex-chief executive James Mason

Councils with senior officials involved in running Welcome to Yorkshire have refused to publish key correspondence they hold about the lead-up to the departure of the tourism agency’s chief executive James Mason - claiming releasing the material is not in the public interest.

James Mason left Welcome to Yorkshire in October and has yet to be replaced as chief executive.
James Mason left Welcome to Yorkshire in October and has yet to be replaced as chief executive.

A letter from Welcome to Yorkshire chairman Peter Box to board members in regards to a complaint about Mr Mason is being kept secret by North Yorkshire, Doncaster and Kirklees Councils on the grounds it is “personal data”.

It comes as a review assesses whether Welcome to Yorkshire, which is a private company but receives millions in funding from local councils and whose board is a mixture of public and private sector representatives, could be formally moved into the public sector.

After Mr Mason’s departure was announced in September, half of the eight-person board resigned. All four were private sector board members.

One of them, Piece Hall boss Nicky Chance-Thompson, said in her leaked resignation letter that she was “very uncomfortable” at the handling of a complaint into unspecified allegations against Mr Mason and that findings on the matter by the organisation’s governance committee “appear to have been dismissed”.

Both Mr Mason and Welcome to Yorkshire have been unwilling to comment on the nature of the allegations. But Mr Mason, who was paid £130,000 per year, has denied any wrongdoing and previously said he was leaving WtY “with my head held high”.

Currently, WtY itself is not subject to Freedom of Information laws as it is a private company.

The Yorkshire Post submitted Freedom of Information requests about the matter to North Yorkshire County Council, whose leader Carl Les is a Welcome to Yorkshire board member, and Doncaster Council, whose Mayor Ros Jones is another board member. An FoI was also submitted to Kirklees Council, whose chief executive Jacqui Gedman has been acting as a board observer.

The councils all provide funding to Welcome to Yorkshire and FoI responses confirm that official council emails were used in dealing with WtY issues including the handling of the complaint issue.

The published FoI responses reveal that after Mr Box arranged an emergency board meeting on the evening of September 14, at 6.40am on September 15 a letter from him was sent to board members asking for their comments.

When The Yorkshire Post asked the councils to publish the contents of the letter, they all refused.

Kirklees Council said releasing the letter would be “would be unfair because it would be an unwarranted intrusion into the privacy of any person who might be involved”.

North Yorkshire County Council said “on balance the rights and freedoms of the data subject outweigh the legitimate interest in disclosure in this case”.

Doncaster Council, which refused to release any information or emails, said: “WtY have sole control of their information and decide who to share it with.”

In the afternoon of September 15 - the same day in which the Peter Box letter had earlier been sent to board members - Welcome to Yorkshire issued a statement in relation to a question from The Yorkshire Post following rumours Mr Mason may be forced to resign.

The statement read: “Welcome to Yorkshire can confirm that a complaint has been received and that all complaints are taken seriously by Welcome to Yorkshire and its board members. Investigations are ongoing and no further comment can be made at this stage, pending further enquiries.”

The following day, September 16, a formal board meeting open to the press and public took place but matters involving Mr Mason’s position were not discussed.

On September 20, it was announced Mr Mason was to leave Welcome to Yorkshire on October 22. A press release said he was moving to an unspecified new job in the New Year.

The FoIs reveal that on September 22, board members were invited to meet on September 30 “on an informal basis”.

On September 23, Ms Chance-Thompson resigned, with the resignations of fellow private sector board members Richard Flint, Sarah Tahamtani and Abbi Ollive confirmed the following day.

As the fallout to the situation continued, on September 30 Mr Box, who is the former leader of Wakefield Council, announced he would be resigning as chairman at the start of November when the agency held its AGM.

It has subsequently been announced the WtY review will run in parallel to one ordered by the Yorkshire Leaders’ Board, which is made up of the region’s council leaders and metro mayors. The reviews are due to report back in February.

Mr Mason was contacted for comment by The Yorkshire Post.

Board meeting to discuss review

Welcome to Yorkshire's next board meeting is to take place on Thursday, having been delayed by three weeks.

It is expected to provide more detail about the review process into the organisation's future.

The meeting is being held virtually but is open to the public.

To request attendance, contact [email protected] and request joining instructions before 5pm on December 7.

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