Welcome to Yorkshire to receive nearly £600,000 as first councils back £1.4m bailout plea

Almost £600,000 of extra taxpayer funding is to go to financially-stricken tourism agency Welcome to Yorkshire after the first sets of regional councils agreed to its bailout request.

Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive James Mason. Picture: Tony Johnson

The agency has been seeking a total of £1.4m from local authorities as a result of a black hole in its finances caused by the loss of expected business rates funding and the suspension of private members' fees due to the coronavirus pandemic - warning that without the money it would be forced to close.

Councils in South and North Yorkshire have now separately agreed to provide extra funding totalling £590,000 for the agency, which already receives around half of its £4m annual income from the public sector.

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Sheffield City Region, along with contributions from Sheffield, Doncaster, Rotherham and Barnsley councils, has agreed to hand the cash-strapped organisation £300,000 of public money following a behind-closed-doors meeting.

A spokesperson for the City Region said the money was subject to “contributions from other local authorities in Yorkshire, greater financial oversight, and the production of a business plan showing how Welcome to Yorkshire will secure their long term financial self-sustainability”.

Councillor Gareth Dadd, deputy leader and cabinet member for finance at North Yorkshire County Council, said £215,000 of unallocated business rates pool funding for nine authorities - NYCC, York, Scarborough, Ryedale, Hambleton, Selby, Harrogate, Richmondshire and Craven - has been approved for Welcome to Yorkshire.

In addition to that, NYCC - whose leader Carl Les is on the board of Welcome to Yorkshire - agreed to provide a further £76,600 to the tourism agency on top of its normal £84,000 annual subscription.

Coun Dadd said NYCC had originally been asked for a £50,000 in additional funding but increased its amount after Ryedale and Hambleton councils refused to pay in extra cash.

The two district councils - along with East Riding Council - had previously signalled their intention to refuse extra funding for the body, which has struggled to recover from the fallout from the departure of original chief executive Sir Gary Verity in March 2019 amidst allegations about his expenses spending and treatment of staff.

While South Yorkshire’s contribution matches the figure it was asked for, the £291,600 from the set of councils around North Yorkshire falls short of the £345,000 Welcome to Yorkshire had initially sought from them towards the bailout.

Coun Dadd said the latest funding came with strict expectations but added that he had faith new chief executive James Mason could deliver.

“We expect them to be shifting the balance of funding from the public sector to the private sector,” he said. “We will be taking a view in a year’s time.”

He said that closing down WtY and setting up a new organisation would cost millions without any clear benefit.

“I have confidence that Mr Mason will turn things around. It is about giving them the time and space to do that. We would do well never to forget that the brand of Yorkshire has been strengthened by Welcome to Yorkshire.”

Last September, NYCC provided Welcome to Yorkshire with a £500,000 loan to prevent the tourism agency running out of money and being unable to pay staff.

In October, its new chairman - former Wakefield Council leader Peter Box - said the agency had previously operated under a “spend now, worry about it later” culture.

It is currently undertaking a round of redundancies as it seeks to balance the books.

Decisions on whether to meet the bailout request are yet to be taken by councils in East and West Yorkshire.

Welcome to Yorkshire is seeking £550,000 from the West Yorkshire councils and £100,000 from those in the east.

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