Welcome to Yorkshire can regain public trust after expenses scandal, vows new boss

Peter Box is the new chairman of Welcome to Yorkshire.
Peter Box is the new chairman of Welcome to Yorkshire.
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The new chairman of Welcome to Yorkshire has pledged to restore taxpayers’ trust in the troubled tourism agency as the fallout to the expenses scandal involving ex-chief executive Sir Gary Verity continues.

Wakefield Council leader Peter Box has been appointed as Welcome to Yorkshire’s chairman on a permanent basis after local authority bosses dramatically ousted the organisation’s interim chair Keith Stewart on Monday as part of their conditions to provide further funding to the privately-run tourism agency, which receives millions in public sector funding.

The organisation is still dealing with the fallout from the departure of Sir Gary Verity earlier this year.

The organisation is still dealing with the fallout from the departure of Sir Gary Verity earlier this year.

Coun Box said he was determined the organisation would become more “open and transparent” in future, with future board meetings held in public.

“This is an organisation receiving money from the public sector and I want to make sure that organisation is one that people can be proud of,” he said. “In the past people have been proud of Welcome to Yorkshire. It has had a setback, everybody knows that and it is stupid to deny that. I honestly believe that Welcome to Yorkshire can regain public trust if it does things differently.”

It is the latest development to hit the agency following Sir Gary’s resignation on health grounds in March in the midst of bullying and expenses allegations. Independent investigations subsequently determined his behaviour towards staff had “fallen short” of expected standards while 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.

Keith Stewart left his role as interim chairman earlier this week.

Keith Stewart left his role as interim chairman earlier this week.

A report to council leaders on Monday revealed the tourism agency – which recently took out a £500,000 loan from North Yorkshire County Council – was “reliant” on an additional and previously-agreed £1m of public sector support. The report said cash-flow issues had delayed the implementation of promised governance reforms recommended by the independent investigators.

As part of an agreement to provide the extra cash, Kirklees Council chief executive Jacqui Gedman is providing “strategic support” to WTY until a new chief executive is appointed.

Coun Box denied there had been a “public sector takeover” but accepted council leaders had decided to take action. “It was felt in view of the public money being put in there that there should be a public sector chairman,” he said.

Search begins for new board members

Welcome to Yorkshire will publicly advertise for new board members as part of its leadership shake-up, Coun Box said.

The current nine-person board is being almost entirely replaced. Coun Box said North Yorkshire County Council leader Carl Les would retain his place on the board, while he and Doncaster mayor Ros Jones would be joining it.

“What has been agreed is that there should be a full refresh of the board by March,” he said.

“We want people with a passion for Yorkshire. I hope we will get a whole range of people who will show an interest and they are going to be publicly-appointed posts.”