Welcome to Yorkshire needs £1.4m emergency bailout to survive – leaked letters

WELCOME TO Yorkshire could be forced to close unless it receives the guarantee of £1.4m of emergency funding from local councils before a crunch meeting on Thursday, The Yorkshire Post can exclusively reveal.

A publicity photo used by Welcome to Yorkshire.

The implicit threat is contained in a leaked letter that Peter Box, the chair of the troubled tourism body, has sent to every council in the country and which has been seen by this newspaper.

It demands the “commitment” of “all” councils. Yet one authority, Ryedale District Council, has indicated that it is unwilling to stump up further financial support, with its leader saying in response: “It feels like a gun held to our heads.”

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The latest crisis, which is due to be discussed at a WTY board meeting on Thursday afternoon, comes after £1m of business rates funding from North and West Yorkshire was withdrawn because of the knock-on effects of Covid-19 on local government funding.

Peter Box is chair of Welcome to Yorkshire.

WTY’s decision to suspend membership fees created another shortfall of £400,000, prompting Mr Box to write a strongly worded letter to every council on Tuesday – the very day that Boris Johnson announced measures to tentatively reopen the country’s hospitality and leisure industries.

West Yorkshire councils are being asked to fund £550,000 while the figure for North Yorkshire is around £450,000. South Yorkshire is being asked to contribute £300,000 with £100,000 coming from East Yorkshire.

The bombshell comes just a week after WTY launched its own response to the Covid crisis, including billboards promoting this region alongside the M25 around London.

“The emergency funds are needed to allow WTY to continue to operate, lead on the development and implementation of the Covid-19 Yorkshire Tourism Recovery Plan and develop the initiatives within the strategy that will generate income for WTY, and contribute to the economic recovery of the Yorkshire tourism sector,” says the letter.

James Mason is chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire.

“This is more important than ever following the announcement today that from July 4 hotels, B&Bs, cottages, campsites and caravan parks can reopen, and people in England will be free to stay away from home overnight for the first time since lockdown began in March.

“Also, restaurants and pubs will be allowed to reopen, providing they follow safety guidelines all of which will contribute to the economic recovery of tourism across Yorkshire.

“Without commitment from all local authorities to contribute to the emergency funding that totals £1.4m, WTY simply cannot continue to operate and the WTY Board will be faced with a decision of not if but when to discuss the options of closing the organisation.”

It adds: “The WTY Board meet on Thursday, June 25, and if we cannot guarantee funding they will be asked to consider the closure of Welcome to Yorkshire at a time when we are seeing the reopening of the tourism sector and the need for an effective tourism agency that has established links and partnerships will be greater than ever before.

“The majority of local authorities have agreed to contribute to the emergency funding but as I said previously, without commitment from all authorities across Yorkshire WTY will not be able to continue.

“For the reasons outlined above and previously articulated in the various reports that you have can l ask those of you who have not yet made a decision or if you have taken the decision that you are not able to support this request if you can reconsider?”

The Yorkshire Post has seen the response of Keane Duncan, the Conservative leader of Ryedale District Council, who wrote: “I recently met with your chief executive (James Mason) and I was pleased with the honest, frank discussion. I really do not envy the task before him and the team at this critical time.

“But, sadly, many Ryedale councillors remain unconvinced about the future viability and credibility of the organisation.

“As leader, I can not go against that strength of feeling. More importantly, I feel that the tourism sector itself is deeply doubtful of WTY’s performance. It falls to the organisation to prove its value via its actions and outputs at this critical time.

“Until we see those results, and the financial outlook improve, we feel it would be reckless to contribute further taxpayer money. It is clearly unsustainable and unfair for local authorities to be asked to hand over greater and greater amounts of cash, every time told that if we do not do so then WTY will fold. It feels like a gun held to our heads.”

He added: “I really do wish you luck, but if ultimately you can not get back onto a level footing, the best thing for the public purse and for the tourism sector at this difficult time might actually be for W2Y to fold and a successor organisation to be established in a managed and controlled way.”

This newspaper has asked Coun Duncan to comment further.

Meanwhile Mr Box has indicated that he believes the majority of councils to be supportive and that he views this arrangement as a temporary one until a new funding model can be put in place that is less reliant on local government funding.

In response, Coun Duncan said: “Until our tourist sector sees real outputs and actions, Ryedale District Council is unable to commit yet more money on top of our previous, significant contributions. This is the right and responsible course of action at a time of unprecedented pressure on the public purse.

“This is not about pointing fingers or levying criticism, it’s about ensuring value for money for the taxpayers to which I am accountable. And, most importantly, it’s about ensuring Yorkshire’s tourism sector has the very best support possible in this challenging climate.

“Ryedale’s main objective in all of this is giving tourism the resources, profile and publicity it needs to welcome visitors back. It’s for Welcome to Yorkshire to demonstrate it can do that within the financial constraints we’re all facing.”

Full interview with Peter Box in tomorrow’s newspaper.

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