Welcome to Yorkshire borrows £500,000 from North Yorkshire County Council to 'offset one-off costs'

Keith Stewart, interim chairman of Welcome to Yorkshire, who said the tourism body's 500,000 loan from North Yorkshire County Council would be used "offset one-off costs". Picture by James Hardisty.
Keith Stewart, interim chairman of Welcome to Yorkshire, who said the tourism body's 500,000 loan from North Yorkshire County Council would be used "offset one-off costs". Picture by James Hardisty.

Regional tourism body Welcome to Yorkshire is facing fresh criticism after it was revealed it has borrowed £500,000 from North Yorkshire County Council.

Despite the move being described as a "bail out" by a Yorkshire peer, the county council and Welcome to Yorkshire insisted taxpayers' money was not being put at risk as it is secured against property owned by the tourism agency.

County hall bosses said the privately-run tourism company, which has been heavily scrutinised in the wake of the sudden departure of its former chief executive Sir Gary Verity earlier this year, had recently exercised the option of a loan originally agreed to by the council's decision-making executive body more than four years ago.

In a statement issued to The Yorkshire Post, Richard Flinton, chief executive of North Yorkshire County Council, said: “In June 2015, our Executive Members approved access to a secured loan facility of up to £500,000 to Welcome to Yorkshire within a five-year period.

"Since that time, this decision has been a matter of public record. Welcome to Yorkshire has recently called upon that loan, which it will repay at the market rate of interest."

Mr Flinton added: “The loan was secured against property owned by Welcome to Yorkshire, so were there to be a default the council’s loan would be protected and there is no risk to taxpayers’ money.”

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Nonetheless, the loan attracted criticism from outspoken Liberal Democrat peer Paul Scriven.

The former Sheffield Council leader has previously voiced his misgivings over how Welcome to Yorkshire is run and reacting to the council loan, he said: "This is another example of a failing and out of their depth board that now ask the public sector, the taxpayer, for another half-a-million pounds loan on top of the £1m they have already got this year.

"It's quite clear to me that the Welcome to Yorkshire board and the organisation and the board structure is not fit for purpose. It is a private company that has become a sponge of taxpayers money. Enough is enough. The board has to go immediately. No more dilly-dallying. They have spent all their cash and now depend on a begging bowl to the public."

Lord Scriven said he believed the board of Welcome to Yorkshire should be re-established as one that is "transparent" and "works to the same rules as the public sector".

Keith Stewart, interim chairman of Welcome to Yorkshire, said: "It’s no secret the challenges that Welcome to Yorkshire, which is a not for profit organisation, has faced over recent months.

"The company is continuing to deliver fantastic events and campaigns for Yorkshire including this week’s UCI Road World Championships.

"The loan enables the business to offset the one-off costs the organisation has faced and allows the company to rapidly progress the recommendations outlined in the investigation reports."