Change at the top of Welcome to Yorkshire – Earl of Harewood the latest to go

tdf13_st5_AJ_Yorkshire_Caravan2-630x419Continuing change at the top of Yorkshire’s tourism agency, Welcome to Yorkshire. The Earl of Harewood, David Lascelles, who had been on the not-for-profit company’s board since 2009, stepped down last week.

Lascelles is one of four directors who have left the board this year – a year in which the company’s profile has seen a massive boost from hosting the Tour de France Grand Depart.

Among the four are two local councillors, including the current chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, Cllr Peter Box. Since August there has been no local authority representation on the board.

And half of the company’s current 10-strong board only joined this year.

Most recently, the 64-year-old Earl, who is the first cousin, once removed, of the Queen, chaired the steering group which ran the 100-day cultural festival held across the county ahead of the race proper in July.

Does this change of the guard matter? Isn’t the future of Welcome to Yorkshire certain after the Tour?

Hmm.

Finances?

Go on. Click and have another look. It was truly brilliant.

Go on. Click and have another look. It was truly brilliant.

In recent weeks, both the Tour and the festival have been declared financial successes: last month organisers were suggesting that the race looked set to have brought in over £150m to Yorkshire’s economy, and this week a report into the impact of the festival said it brought in close to £10m.

Where all this leaves the finances of Welcome to Yorkshire – arguably the only high-profile Yorkshire-wide institution in this era of devolution – is unclear.

Did the company’s undoubted marketing success with the Tour translate into hard cash for its own coffers? Did its investment in the Grand Depart – through events such as the opening ceremony in the first direct arena in Leeds – pay off?

We won’t know till the company’s accounts for 2013-14 (and beyond) are published.

But it certainly will have been hoping so. The company posted a £1m deficit in 2012-13, and, in the absence of regular central government funding (apart from the one-off cash reluctantly handed over for the Tour), has been keen to work with Yorkshire’s local authorities to come up with a long-term plan that would secure the money it needs for its core promo work.

Tourism agencies competing for gov’t cash

gary-verity1-620x393

Gary Verity: looking forward to hearing the detail.

So, on the face of it, it could be good news for Welcome to Yorkshire that the government intends to provide the north of England with an extra £10m to fund tourism.

It could be.

“We look forward to hearing the detail of how this will work,” company chief exec Gary Verity said after Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg pledged the cash earlier this month.

No doubt.

Because, as Mr Verity knows to his cost, there are a fair few competing tourism agencies in the region – Leeds and Partners and Visit York spring to mind – who have jumped the queue for Whitehall tourism cash in recent years. And they’ll be wanting to stake a claim for a share of Mr Clegg’s new funding.

With no county-wide political body to fight its corner, and devolution in the north already set to happen based on combined authorities not old-school counties, it’s difficult to see Welcome to Yorkshire’s future as anything other than precarious.

There’s going to be a lot of wrangling ahead.

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