Welcome to Yorkshire: Two directors quit troubled tourism agency's board 'with great regret'

Two directors have left troubled tourism agency Welcome to Yorkshire with immediate effect in the midst of the organisation's latest battle for its future.

Stephen Parnaby has left his role on the board of Welcome to Yorkshire.

Paul Grace, a former Head of Customer Banking at Yorkshire Bank who had only joined the Welcome to Yorkshire board in January and former East Riding Council leader Stephen Parnaby have both resigned from their positions at the tourism agency. Both said they were departing with "great regret".

Welcome to Yorkshire, which is in the process of seeking a £1.4m emergency bailout from local councils, said both men had left on "very positive terms" with each departure connected to other work commitments.

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When Mr Grace was appointed in January, he said it was a “great opportunity to shape the future direction of the organisation” and he would bring additional commercial focus.

Paul Grace (second left) had joined the Welcome to Yorkshire board in January.

But he said today he was leaving with “great regret” due to other commitments and will continue to support the organisation as an unpaid consultant.

Mr Parnaby, who has been on the tourism agency’s board since December 2018, said his recent appointment as chairman of the Humber Local Enterprise Partnership means he can not dedicate the required time to Welcome to Yorkshire.

The agency has struggled to recover from the fallout to former chief executive Sir Gary Verity’s resignation on health grounds in March 2019 amidst allegations about his expense spending and behaviour towards staff.

Sir Gary repaid more than £25,000 to Welcome to Yorkshire after an independent inquiry last year highlighted “personal” expense claims that had no business justification. West Yorkshire Police recently determined it would take no further action against him after assessing the findings of the investigation.

In September, Welcome to Yorkshire took out a £500,000 loan from North Yorkshire County Council to prevent it running out of money and being unable to pay staff that month.

It is now seeking £1.4m from regional councils after an expected £1m of income from business rates money overseen by local authorities in North and West Yorkshire was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic affecting their finances. A further £400,000 has been lost as a result of Welcome to Yorkshire suspending membership fees from its private sector supporters to help them through lockdown.

Welcome to Yorkshire said replacements for Mr Parnaby and Mr Grace will be appointed “in due course”.

Mr Grace, who is a director at commercial finance broker RedSky, said: “It is with great regret that I’ve had to step away from the board due to other exciting business interests which are absorbing the majority of my time.

“I remain committed to Welcome to Yorkshire and the board and will continue to support them as an unpaid consultant moving forward.”

He added: “Having got to know the board and chief executive James Mason over recent months, I have absolute faith that the new leadership team will play a key and vital part in the recovery of Yorkshire’s tourism industry post Covid-19. I wish them the best of luck and I am pleased to confirm that I have offered to continue supporting the organisation as an unpaid consultant.”

Mr Parnaby OBE said: “It is with great regret that I have made the decision to resign as a director of Welcome to Yorkshire.

“Along with my other commitments I have recently taken over as chairman of the Humber Local Enterprise Partnership which is facing several challenges in addressing recovery and emerging new geographical boundaries in the region.

“Unfortunately I am unable to give the time required to Welcome to Yorkshire and felt it only fair to all concerned to step down.

“I have had a relatively short period as a director but have been involved with Welcome to Yorkshire since its inception. There is no doubt it has a remarkable record of increasing the visitor economy and has put Yorkshire on the map as a destination.

“I believe that as the country emerges from COVID-19 more people will be looking for holidays in the UK and Yorkshire is well placed to maximise the benefits. I wish Welcome to Yorkshire well in helping deliver those and have every faith it will achieve that going forward. “The organisation has an experienced chair and an excellent chief executive, along with a dedicated team and board of directors, who all have the interest of Yorkshire and its potential to have a bright future.”

Welcome to Yorkshire Chair Peter Box said he wanted to thank Mr Grace and Mr Parnaby for their contributions.

He added: “The board have accepted both their resignations and fully understand their reasons for stepping down, relating to their individual business commitments and personal plans going forward. We appreciate their positive thoughts regarding the important future of Welcome to Yorkshire and its continued crucial impact on the county’s £9bn tourism economy.”

Welcome to Yorkshire Chief Executive James Mason said: “Since joining Welcome to Yorkshire in January it has been a pleasure to meet and work with both men. They are both highly regarded in the business world and respected across Yorkshire.

“Their contribution to the organisation and with the board has been very much appreciated by all and whilst this is a good bye from the board, they will remain as key allies in their new roles for WTY to work alongside.”

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