Liberal Democrat peer Lord Scriven has called for the immediate resignation of Welcome to Yorkshire’s board after details of the troubled tourist agency’s financial problems and delays in implementing reforms following the scandal-hit departure of ex-chief executive Sir Gary Verity came to light.
Lord Scriven, a former leader of Sheffield City Council who has repeatedly criticised the organisation’s handling of the fallout from Sir Gary’s resignation following allegations about his expenses spending and bullying of staff members, said the time had come to consider whether the organisation needed to be shut down completely.
His call comes ahead of a crunch meeting of North and West Yorkshire council leaders on Monday where they will consider whether to grant the privately-run tourist agency £1m in funding after reading a classified report into the organisation’s “challenging” financial position, which have seen it recently take out a £500,000 loan from North Yorkshire County Council.
A report going to Monday’s meeting from Kirklees Council chief executive and Welcome to Yorkshire ‘board observer’ Jacqui Gedman has said “cash flow issues” have contributed to delays in implementing governance changes recommended by two independent reports ordered after Sir Gary’s resignation on health grounds in March and that Welcome to Yorkshire is “reliant” on the new funding being granted.
Lord Scriven said: “Welcome to Yorkshire has become a vacuum cleaner which is sucking up millions of pounds of hard-earned taxpayers’ money while the changes that are required in culture, governance and financial probity haven’t taken place.
“Enough is enough - council leaders and councillors wouldn’t give their own money to any organisation which has run out of money with an incompetent board and leadership team.
“The board need to resign with immediate effect and face the consequences of their incompetence over a number of years.
“On a temporary basis there should be a board of council chief executives and private sector tourism representatives that are put in place for up to three months to determine the long-term future of Welcome to Yorkshire and whether it needs to fold and come back in a different form. Decisions need to be made in public and be fully transparent.”
He added that tourism businesses in Yorkshire unhappy with the current situation may wish to consider suspending payments themselves.
“I would say to private sector businesses who are members that if the public sector are going to continue to throw taxpayers’ money into this, they need to think very hard if they are going to withhold their money until reforms are made.”
Welcome to Yorkshire did not wish to comment. But interim chair Keith Stewart said earlier this week that the organisation is “hopeful” of receiving the £1m from the local councils which should put it on a stronger financial footing.
“Welcome to Yorkshire is a not-for-profit organisation which does not have large cash reserves,” he said. “The organisation is under financial pressure due to the one-off costs associated with the investigations and the pausing of public sector funding which had been included in our budget.
“We are hopeful for continued support from the North and West Yorkshire Business Rates Pool Joint Committee which will allow us to rapidly progress the recommendations from the independent investigations and continue to boost Yorkshire tourism.”