Welcome to Yorkshire to hold further crisis talks as three councils pull funding

The scene in Leeds at the start of the 2014 Tour de France.The scene in Leeds at the start of the 2014 Tour de France.
The scene in Leeds at the start of the 2014 Tour de France.
A SENIOR Welcome to Yorkshire board member says the tourism body now has a year to prove that it is deserving of the public’s trust after at least three councils pulled emergency funding.

Carl Les – who is also chair of North Yorkshire County Council – spoke out after 20 local authorities were asked to stump up a combined total of £1.4m to fund the agency until the end of the current financial year.

Yet, as WTY executives held an ‘extraordinary board meeting’ just 48 hours after warning town hall leaders that the agency could close without the bailout, at least three councils – Ryedale, Hambleton and East Riding – had refused the request while others were attaching conditions to their contributions.

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The outcome of the meeting appeared inconclusive – WTY said that it discussed offers of financial support from local authorities and that “it needs further discussions with councils before a definitive option can be pursued”.

Peter Box is chair of Welcome to Yorkshire.Peter Box is chair of Welcome to Yorkshire.
Peter Box is chair of Welcome to Yorkshire.

It is understood that these include the creation of ‘service level agreemments’ – a series of contractual commitments that WTY would have to meet in return for public money. A WTY insider said: “It does look hopeful that the organisation will continue.”

Yet Coun Les, whose own authority has loaned Welcome to Yorkshire £500,000, says the organisation can still make a material difference to the lives of local people after being left on the brink of financial collapse following a succession of scandals in the wake of disgraced chief executive Sir Gary Verity’s resignation in March 2019.

“We need the opportunity to prove how good we can be,” said Coun Les who added that “a balance” between public and private sector funding was essential.

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“You need £1.4m to give us the opportunity. We need a year to get through it and I am pleased that the vast majority of councils in Yorkshire are playing their part.

James Mason is the new chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire.James Mason is the new chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire.
James Mason is the new chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire.

“The proof will be in the pudding but I believe we should all play a part in making sure Welcome to Yorkshire is the successful organisation that we all want it to be.”

Yet, after Ryedale Council leader Keane Duncan said 48 hours ago that his authority was holding back £33,000 and that it might be better if WTY folded, its stance was backed by neighbouring Hambleton Council yesterday.

Its leader Mark Robson confirmed that Hambleton would not be handing over £53,000. “I would rather throw the money into something that will benefit the residents of Hambleton moving forward,” he declared.

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“We haven’t taken this decision lightly. It is a poor state of affairs when one, if not more, councils can’t work with Welcome to Yorkshire because they don’t know how their money will be spent. This has been coming for a long time.”

The latest crisis came 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.

WTY’s decision to suspend membership fees created another shortfall of £400,000, prompting Peter Box, the organisation’s chair, 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 were being asked to fund £550,000 while the figure for North Yorkshire is around £350,000. South Yorkshire is being asked to contribute £300,000 with £100,000 coming from East Yorkshire.

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A East Riding Council spokesperson said it did “not intend to make any additional funding payments”. Hull City Council appeared uncommitted.

Meanwhile Leeds City Council confirmed legacy funding from business rates meant it would not have to source new funding. It did say, however, that it expected “full transparency”.

WTY also defended the decision to hold yesterday’s meeting in private. “We did not feel this was something that could be held in public as we have a duty to inform the staff, paying members and other partners first,” said its statement.

Mr Box, chair of WTY, added: “There’s more work to do before we can agree a way ahead. We will continue to talk to council leaders about financial support and the options that flow from that.

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“The response we’ve had from leaders over the past few weeks has been encouraging and we were able to have a constructive discussion at this afternoon’s Extraordinary Board Meeting. We will have further talks before we plot a way forward.

“I’m grateful for the support we’ve already had from council leaders, and others, across Yorkshire. If we are going to deliver a successful economic and social recovery from the pandemic, tourism will have to play a crucial role in that.

“Without a thriving tourism industry, there won’t be the kind of recovery we all want to see in Yorkshire.”

Editor’s note: first and foremost - and rarely have I written down these words with more sincerity - I hope this finds you well.

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