Troubled tourism agency Welcome to Yorkshire’s new board will discuss whether the company should be subject to Freedom of Information laws which would allow members of the public to know more details about its finances, a spokesperson has said.
It follows Councillor Andrew Carter, leader of the Conservative group on Leeds Council, demanding the privately-run company opened itself up to FoI laws after claiming “there is a general feeling that there has been a ‘whitewash’ of gigantic scale as to the problems the organisation has faced”.
Change the law so Welcome to Yorkshire meets Freedom of Information requirements: The Yorkshire Post says
Coun Carter submitted an FoI request to Welcome to Yorkshire earlier this week on a series of issues following concerns about the organisation’s financial position, which has been struggling to recover from the fallout to ex-chief executive Sir Gary Verity’s resignation on health grounds in March in the midst of bullying and expenses allegations. The tourist agency, which is in the process of appointing a new chief executive and board members, currently just has 12 months to fully repay a £500,000 loan it took from North Yorkshire County Council in September which prevented the organisation running out of cash that month and being unable to pay staff.
Welcome to Yorkshire subsequently received a further £1m from West and North Yorkshire councils in October but was dropped from a £2m marketing campaign for the North York Moors after failing to provide sufficient reassurances about its financial stability to the North York Moors National Park Authority.
As part of council leaders agreeing to provide further funding to WtY last month, interim chairman Keith Stewart was ousted and replaced as chairman by Wakefield Council leader Peter Box who has promised greater transparency in the running of the company, which receives around half its funding from the public sector.
Coun Carter said further scrutiny via FoI is still required to allow full public understanding of the issues affecting WtY given continued taxpayer funding will be needed to keep the organisation going.
As a private company, WtY is not subject to FoI laws which govern public authorities like local councils.
Coun Carter said: “Council taxpayers across Yorkshire will be wondering just how much they will be asked to pay to bail out Welcome to Yorkshire. There has been a £500,000 loan from North Yorkshire County Council and further funding linked to the appointment of the new chair – when will this stop and how much do they need to become financially secure?
“It is a great pity that much of the good work done by Welcome to Yorkshire over the past five years and the enhanced reputation that Yorkshire as a county has gained is being undone by this ongoing fiasco. There is a general feeling as well that there has been a ‘whitewash’ of gigantic scale as to the problems the organisation has faced. It is time for the new Board to come clean. Welcome to Yorkshire has always been reliant on public sector funding, i.e. the taxpayer, to continue operations. We all have a right to know what’s been going on.
“Any organisation reliant on taxpayer funding should have to honestly answer questions.”
A spokesperson for Welcome to Yorkshire said: “Since becoming Chair in early October, Peter Box has consistently said that Welcome to Yorkshire will be run in an open, honest and transparent way. That’s why one of his first acts was to release two previously confidential reports, prepared for the West and North Yorkshire Business Rates Pool Joint Committee in October, which answer many of Cllr Carter’s points.
“Those reports are now published on the Welcome to Yorkshire website and are in addition to the two reports written by BDO and Clarion in July, following their independent investigations into expenses as well as the culture, governance and management at Welcome to Yorkshire. These investigation reports also feature on the website.
“The Yorkshire Post has reported extensively on all the reports and other Welcome to Yorkshire issues. It was able to do so, because the organisation responded in a timely, open and transparent way.
“Future board meetings will be held in public, and eventually webcast. As the leader of a local authority for 21 years, Coun Box well understands Coun Carter’s point about Freedom of Information requests and public accountability. He wants a discussion at a board meeting about FoI and scrutiny, but ahead of that, he has offered to meet Coun Carter to discuss the issues he has raised.”