Welcome to Yorkshire boss ousted after council bosses demand change

Keith Stewart at Welcome to Yorkshire's tenth anniversary celebrations in April 2019.
Keith Stewart at Welcome to Yorkshire's tenth anniversary celebrations in April 2019.
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Welcome to Yorkshire’s interim chairman Keith Stewart has left the troubled tourism agency with immediate effect after council bosses demanded he was replaced.

Mr Stewart's replacement was one of several demands made today in return for the North and West Yorkshire Business Rates Pool investing £1m into Welcome to Yorkshire (WtY).

The immediate recruitment of a new WtY board will also take place, though public sector members of the board will retain their seats.

Jacqui Gedman, chief executive of Kirkless Council, has been appointed to provide 'strategic support' to WtY - a private company - until a new public sector chair is appointed.

Ms Gedman said during the meeting: "The interim chair arrangements should be ceased, so we can be in a position where the public sector can take over leadership in this difficult time.”

Councillor Tim Swift, Leader of Calderdale Council and chair of the North and West Yorkshire Business Rates Pool, said: “We are in full agreement that the region needs a successful strategic destination marketing organisation, but it must be one that upholds the same values and governance enshrined in the principles of spending public funds.”

It was also revealed that a “managed closedown” of WtY was looked into, but that this would have been even more expensive, and that a replacement company would have to have been set up instead.
Mr Stewart, a WtY board member since 2014, took over following chairman Ron McMillan’s resignation in April.
He said last week the agency was hopeful of receiving the money 'which will allow us to rapidly progress the recommendations from the independent investigations and continue to boost the Yorkshire tourism'.
Under the new arrangements, recruitment of a new WtY chief executive will start 'immediately and publicly' and a public sector-led four month consultation about the future of regional tourism will be launched.

The recommendations were approved at the pool’s meeting, when members also thanked Keith Stewart for his interim chairmanship, along with board members who supported him.

In a statement, Mr Stewart said: "My priority as Chair has been to ensure the survival of Welcome to Yorkshire which has achieved amazing things in its 10-year life. It is now in a position to plan for its future.

"I am proud of the progress we have made since April when I took over an organisation in shock following the resignation of the CEO and previous Chair.

"We focused on rebuilding trust internally and externally, commissioned the independent investigations then commenced implementing their recommendations, started the search for a new CEO which is progressing well, managed cash and expenditure tightly and improved governance.

"During this challenging time our hardworking team has delivered a huge number of events large and small to our usual high standard.

"I am also enormously grateful to my colleagues on the board for giving me and the team their support.

"Lesser people would have walked away - these are voluntary posts after all - but each of them worked hard to ensure Welcome to Yorkshire has a future.

"We are all excited about Welcome to Yorkshire’s future prospects and wish the team well."

Cllr Swift added in his statement: "The pool has been very firm from the start that it would only continue to support Welcome to Yorkshire if it was satisfied that significant progress had been made to strengthen its accountability, transparency and governance of public resources.

“We also required clear evidence that strong action was being taken to address the issues within the organisation resulting from the behaviour of their former chief executive, as highlighted in the investigation reports.

“They have evidenced sufficient progress in both areas at this stage and we recognise that financial uncertainty has been a barrier to those improvements happening at the pace required. Therefore we have agreed to release limited funding, subject to the board changes and other agreed conditions. This is subject to further progress reviews to enable WTY to implement the recommendations while continuing to drive the Yorkshire visitor economy."