Council leader says Welcome to Yorkshire has made far too little change since expenses scandal

Cllr Steve Siddons. PIC: Richard Ponter
Cllr Steve Siddons. PIC: Richard Ponter

At yesterday’s meeting between regional local authority leaders and tourism agency, Welcome to Yorkshire, there were calls for the transformation of Welcome to Yorkshire in order for it to secure future public funding.

Cllr Steve Siddons, Leader of Scarborough Borough Council and member of the North and West Yorkshire Business Rates Pool (NWTBRP) attended the meeting, where several demands were made by local authority bosses in return for £1 million investment into Welcome to Yorkshire by the NWTBRP.

Keith Stewart at Welcome to Yorkshire's 10th anniversary event in April of this year. PIC: James Hardisty

Keith Stewart at Welcome to Yorkshire's 10th anniversary event in April of this year. PIC: James Hardisty

Earlier this year an investigation was launched into Welcome to Yorkshire - a private company that receives some public money - after an expenses scandal was exposed.

Former boss Sir Gary Verity resigned in the wake of the scandal.

Of yesterday's meeting, Cllr Siddons said: “The Yorkshire brand needs a marketing organisation that has the confidence of both public and tourism industry sponsors.

“We were asked to consider the progress that Welcome to Yorkshire has made recently. Since the launch of investigations into the company there's been far too little change.

"Welcome to Yorkshire’s governance, accountability and transparency are still perceived as being inadequate.

"I told the meeting that Welcome to Yorkshire needs a new board, a new CEO and senior team urgently to regain the confidence of all those involved in and dependent on the Yorkshire tourism industry. The new board can then have the chance to quickly get the Yorkshire brand back on track with sweeping changes.

“Members of the North and West Yorkshire Business Rates Pool agreed a series of firm conditions, which the tourism organisation’s board must accept before part release of the funds previously agreed for the financial year 2019/20, subject to further progress reviews."

These conditions were:

- Immediate recruitment of a new Welcome to Yorkshire board, with the interim chair arrangements ceasing immediately.

- A public sector chair to be appointed and the new board in place before the end of the financial year.

- Recruitment of a new Welcome to Yorkshire Chief Executive to start immediately and the process to be publicly visible. Until this process is complete, Jacqui Gedman, Chief Executive of Kirklees Council, to provide Welcome to Yorkshire with strategic support and authority to draw down Business Rates Pool funding as required.

- The launch of a public sector led consultation over a period of four months about the future of regional tourism.

Since the meeting Welcome to Yorkshire's interim chairman Keith Stewart has resigned.

Cllr Siddons added: “As a start to addressing the criticism of the company’s lack of openness, the pool also agreed to publish, in full, confidential reports supporting the review apart from commercially sensitive sections.

“Since the meeting, the Welcome to Yorkshire board’s interim chairman, Keith Stewart, has stepped down and the transformation of the board before the end of the financial year is now in progress.

“We meet again later in the year to assess improvement before future funds are released.”