'Significant change' needed for scandal-hit Welcome to Yorkshire to keep receiving public money, says new chair

Peter Box is the new chairman of Welcome to Yorkshire.
Peter Box is the new chairman of Welcome to Yorkshire.
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“Significant change” is needed at troubled tourism agency Welcome to Yorkshire if it is to continue receiving public money, the organisation’s new chairman has said.

Peter Box, the long-serving leader of Wakefield Council, was installed as the new chair of Welcome to Yorkshire this week after council leaders dramatically ousted interim chair Keith Stewart this week as a condition of providing further taxpayer funding to the privately-run agency.

Sir Gary Verity is yet to be replaced as chief executive following his resignation earlier this year.

Sir Gary Verity is yet to be replaced as chief executive following his resignation earlier this year.

In an email on Friday to regional businesses which are members of Welcome to Yorkshire, Coun Box said further changes are needed at the agency.

“Political leaders across the region are clear that continued investment of public funds is dependent on significant change in accountability, transparency and governance of public resources,” he said.

The organisation has been struggling to deal with the fallout from the resignation of ex-chief executive Sir Gary Verity on health grounds in March, with subsequent independent investigations determining his behaviour towards staff had “fallen short” of expected standards after bullying allegations were made, while it was found he had claimed around £26,000 in ‘personal’ expenses “not incurred wholly for the benefit of Welcome to Yorkshire”.

Investigators were unable to determine whether a further £900,000 of expense claims by Sir Gary and other senior officials had been “reasonable” because of a lack of clear spending policies.

In recent months, Welcome to Yorkshire has cancelled a planned merger with regional food group Deliciouslyorkshire, while it has also taken out a £500,000 loan from North Yorkshire County Council to cover “one-off costs”. Delays in implementing promised governance reforms at the agency have been blamed on “cash-flow issues” but council leaders agreed on Monday to provide it with another £1m in public money on the proviso that leadership changes were made. With a replacement chief executive for Sir Gary yet to be hired, Kirklees Council chief executive Jacqui Gedman is providing “strategic support” to the organisation.

In his email to WTY members, Coun Box said: “I will be open and honest with everyone about the challenges the organisation faces. It clearly needs to be more transparent in decision making, with more accountable governance, whilst retaining the dynamism and business acumen of the private sector. There is so much to be proud of in terms of what we have achieved in tourism and events and as such we have a great base to build on.

“The region needs a successful strategic destination marketing organisation, but one that is governed by similar values to others spending public sector funds. In media interviews this week, I was asked whether the Welcome to Yorkshire “brand” is “tarnished”. Whilst there’s no doubt it has taken a knock, I don’t believe it is irretrievably damaged.

“All brands need a periodic overhaul – whether public or private sector – but that is not about logos or colours, but it is about values and behaviours. This will be my focus as the new Chair of Welcome to Yorkshire.

“Let’s also keep focused on the real brand here – Yorkshire. A real test for a revamped WTY is to increase visitor numbers by creating a range of world class, ground breaking and inclusive cultural and sporting events that continue to instil even more pride in those of us who live and work in the region.

"I would not have taken on this role if I didn’t believe we can succeed in rejuvenating WTY and capitalising on our greatest assets: the people of Yorkshire; our stunning countryside and coastlines; our towns, cities, dales and valleys.”