County council extends Welcome to Yorkshire loan deadline

The Tour de Yorkshire in Richmond. Photo: Guy Carpenter.

Welcome to Yorkshire’s leaders have spoken of their gratitude and relief after North Yorkshire County Council’s executive approved extending the £500,000 loan it gave to the tourism body until November next year.

The commercial terms loan had originally been agreed in 2015 following financial difficulties encountered following the Tour de France Grand Depart, but it was not needed until September last year, to enable it to pay its staff.

However, in recent weeks Welcome to Yorkshire’s woes appear to have deepened, with the agency applying for Government support towards staff wages and covering operational costs during the coronavirus lockdown.

The body, which has been a private firm since 2009, is also continuing to struggle after its long-time chief executive Sir Gary Verity resigned last year following bullying and expenses spending allegations.

While Welcome to Yorkshire has been accused of repeatedly misusing taxpayers’ money, Councillor Gareth Dadd, the North Yorkshire council’s deputy leader and finance boss, said it would be unthinkable for the region not to have such an organisation in place to promote its tourism industry post-lockdown.

He said executive members had agreed the tourism body needed time to develop its recovery plan, while the council needed to focus its attention on responding to coronavirus.

He added with tourism being among the largest sectors of Yorkshire’s economy it would be vital to take advantage of any potential rise in the number of British people wanting to have a holiday without going abroad.

Research commissioned by Welcome to Yorkshire last year concluded tourism is worth £9bn a year to the region and supports 224,000 workers.

Cllr Dadd said: “If we hadn’t gone for an extension we might have heightened the risk of Welcome to Yorkshire folding. We did not want to be in a position where we pulled the rug from under them.

“We will need a tourism organisation to advocate for Yorkshire more than ever when the lockdown restrictions are eased to enable people to travel. The staycation market will probably be stronger than ever.”

When pressed over concerns that Welcome to Yorkshire could default on the loan, Cllr Dadd said the funds had been secured on the tourism body’s former headquarters in York, which had been valued at between £710,000 and £875,000.

The executive agreed that its priority in “unlikely” event of the loan not being repaid, would be to protect the value of the loan.

Following the decision, chair of Welcome to Yorkshire, Peter Box said the agency was “incredibly grateful” to the council for its ongoing support.

He said: “This allows the organisation some much needed breathing space as we live through unprecedented times not just for the tourism industry but the nation as a whole. The work Welcome to Yorkshire is doing right now is vital to help businesses survive the COVID-19 crisis and also to make sure we’re in the best possible position to start recovering when we are out the other side.

“When the lockdown ends we’ll need Welcome to Yorkshire more than ever, to promote our great county.

Until we can once again start attracting visitors from across the globe, we’ll need a focus on encouraging staycations and day trips to see all the amazing things we have right on our doorstep and once again enjoy the experiences we’ve perhaps all taken for granted.”