Tourism body Welcome to Yorkshire announced a change of leadership on Tuesday following months of scandal.
By Harry Douglas-Gratton
Peter Box, who is also the leader of Wakefield Council, will be taking over as chairman of the organisation, replacing Sir Gary Verity who resigned in March this year.
But what exactly happened during Mr Verity’s tenure as chair which tarnished the reputation of Welcome to Yorkshire and led to new leadership?
A brief timeline
Welcome to Yorkshire is the official tourism agency for Yorkshire, promoting the county both nationally and abroad. Although it is a private company it receives up to £1m public funding per year from local councils.
Sir Gary Verity, a sheep farmer from Leeds, was appointed chairman of the organisation in 2008. In 2015 he was knighted for his successful campaign to host the 2014 Tour De France’s Grand Depart in Yorkshire.
Complaints about Mr Verity’s behaviour surfaced in 2014 and 2016 and it was recommended that he attend behavioural management counselling.
Former head of communications Dee Marshall told BBC Look North in March that she “witnessed behaviour that was completely unacceptable in my opinion, and a lot of people were very hurt.”
Despite the complaints about Mr Verity’s behaviour and a toxic workplace environment, Welcome to Yorkshire was without scandal until 22 March 2019, when Mr Verity resigned citing health reasons.
However at the same time an investigation into Mr Verity’s expenses and treatment of his staff was underway.
In July, two reports were released. One, conducted by accounting firm BDO, looked at Welcome to Yorkshire’s expenses over a three year period.
BDO’s investigation found that there were “certain expenses that we consider to be personal” and that “of the £900,000 of expenses reviewed, we identified expenses in the
sum of £26,000 which we consider to be personal.”
The report also found that there was a “lack of documentary evidence” maintained by the organisation and a “lack of a clear and unambiguous entertainment policy”, making it difficult to determine if some expense amounts were personal or business related.
The other investigation was carried out by solicitors Clarion. In a study of 55 relevant participants, 83% said that that there were cultural problems in the workplace, many of which coming from the top down.
The report found that “the overriding objective of many participants has become to avoid conflict. Most have become adept at not challenging colleagues’ behaviour or raising any concerns (by way of a formal grievance or to the Board) or constructive criticism, and there are valid explanations as to why that was the case which stems from the culture that has evolved.”
Additionally, a disconnect between lower level staff and the Board was reported and many participants said that they did not know who the current Board were or how to contact them.
Welcome to Yorkshire appointed their new chairman on Tuesday.
Cllr Peter Box, who is the leader of Wakefield Council, told the BBC that under his leadership the organisation would become more “open and transparent”.
Mr Box said he will hold open board meetings for staff and the public to attend which will include the opportunity for attendants to ask questions.
The Board will also be replaced entirely by April 2020.
Welcome to Yorkshire receives £1m public funding a year but the recent scandal has thrown such subsidies into question.