Welcome to Yorkshire in talks with council over extending time to repay £500,000 taxpayer loan

Welcome to Yorkshire's new chief executive James Mason wants more time to repay the 500,000 loan. Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Welcome to Yorkshire's new chief executive James Mason wants more time to repay the 500,000 loan. Picture: Bruce Rollinson
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Troubled tourism agency Welcome to Yorkshire is in talks with North Yorkshire County Council about extending the repayment time for a £500,000 loan the local authority provided to keep the organisation afloat last year.

The money is currently due to be repaid in full by November but last week new chief executive James Mason said he hoped to be given more time.

North Yorkshire County Council leader Carl Les is a member of the Welcome to Yorkshire board.

North Yorkshire County Council leader Carl Les is a member of the Welcome to Yorkshire board.

Welcome to Yorkshire has now confirmed it is in discussions with the council about the loan following a board meeting behind closed doors this week where the matter was discussed.

Carl Les, leader of North Yorkshire County Council, is among Welcome to Yorkshire’s board members and the tourist agency confirmed to The Yorkshire Post he was in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting.

A WTY spokesperson said: “We’re discussing the terms of the loan with North Yorkshire County Council.”

Gary Fielding, Corporate Director for Strategic Resources for the council, confirmed talks are under way and said an ultimate decision would rest with senior councillors.

He said: “We are in conversation with Welcome to Yorkshire about the loan but any decision over changes to the terms would need to be taken by our executive.”

The loan was taken out in September to prevent the financially-troubled organisation from running out of cash that month and being unable to pay staff.

It is secured against a £1m-valued building Welcome to Yorkshire owns in York.

Welcome to Yorkshire is a private company but receives millions in taxpayer funding each year, largely via local councils.

The organisation has struggled to recover from the fallout from the resignation of ex-chief executive Sir Gary Verity last March amidst bullying and expense spending allegations.

It has delayed publication of its annual accounts that were due by December 31 as an audit continues to assess whether it can still be considered a “going concern”.

Earlier this month, North and West Yorkshire Council leaders agreed to release more than £660,000 of funding to the tourist agency after declaring that significant progress had been made in transforming how it operates.

Last week Mr Mason told The Yorkshire Post he intended to reduce the organisation’s reliance on public sector funding but said Welcome to Yorkshire “would like to look at the payment terms” of the North Yorkshire County Council loan and “give ourselves as long as possible” to repay it.

At Wednesday’s board meeting, it was also agreed that future board meetings will be open to the press and public for the first time as part of efforts to make the organisation more transparent.

The company has also appointed two new non-executive directors. They are Paul Grace, former Head of Customer Banking at Yorkshire Bank and Sarah Tahamtani, a partner and Head of the Employment Practice at Clarion, the Leeds-based legal firm which conducted an investigation into the management culture at WtY following allegations of bullying against Sir Gary.

Fifty-five people gave evidence to the investigation conducted by Clarion, with more than 80 per cent discussing “cultural” problems at the organisation.

It found that Sir Gary had “fallen short” of the highest performance and leadership standards that would be reasonably expected of a chief executive.

A parallel investigation into expense claims was unable to determine whether almost £1m of expense claims by Sir Gary and other senior managers had been “reasonable” because of a lack of clear spending policies.

Sir Gary repaid over £25,000 in expenses found to have been incurred “not wholly for the benefit” of WtY.