by Tony Earnshaw, LDRS
Council chiefs in Kirklees have given their backing to tourism agency Welcome to Yorkshire.
The authority has allocated £79,000 towards WtY, which has experienced well-documented financial troubles associated with the tenure of former chief executive Sir Gary Verity.
He resigned in March 2019 as allegations emerged over his expenses and treatment of staff.
In June the agency, which is a private company but receives millions in public funding each year, said it was seeking £1.4m from councils across Yorkshire.
That was due to a forecast £1m loss in the business rates it had been expecting following coronavirus and £400,000 less after suspending firms’ membership fees.
The cost to West Yorkshire councils was said to be £550,000. Some councils said they would pay subscriptions but would withhold additional funding.
Kirklees’ stance is in marked contrast to that of neighbouring Wakefield Council, which last week refused to pump extra cash into the body.
The move has been applauded by Martyn Bolt, a Conservative councillor for Mirfield, a keen cyclist and a former national board member of the Cyclists’ Touring Club.
Clr Bolt said: “The cost of showcasing Kirklees’ wonderful scenery around the world via the coverage of the Tour de France and Tour de Yorkshire far exceed the council’s current contribution.
“As we are already seeing via the tourism brought by TV shows such as Last of the Summer Wine, that income may continue to flow for many years.”
Between 2014 and 2018 Kirklees Council gave WtY a total of £35,676.
Kirklees has featured in two of the four Tour de Yorkshire races so far – the 2017 event and the inaugural race in 2015.
Huddersfield was set to be a host location in 2020 until the coronavirus pandemic forced the postponement of the race.
Speaking last year Council Leader Clr Shabir Pandor described the race as “a fantastic opportunity to showcase Huddersfield and Kirklees on a truly international stage and to provide the warmest of welcomes to visitors from all over the world.”
That opinion was clearly not shared by Labour colleagues in Wakefield, where Council Leader Denise Jeffrey said it was not “opportune” to pay anything more than an annual subscription into WtY.
There was further criticism of what one councillor described as the agency’s “lavish lifestyle”.
A spokesperson for Kirklees Council said: “Each council will take a view of the importance of tourism and the hospitality sector to the region’s economic recovery.
“In Kirklees we remain committed to supporting Welcome to Yorkshire alongside the vast majority of neighbouring councils.
“We see their role to champion the region as a destination as even more important in the current context.
“That is why the council will follow through on the funding that was originally earmarked for this purpose in July.”
Clr Bolt accepted that Welcome to Yorkshire had experienced issues around its spending and said it had sought to demonstrate better financial accountability.
He argued that it was best-placed to showcase “the greatest county in the country for what it is”.
He added: “Welcome to Yorkshire has provided an impact on investment that will be seen for years to come.
“My question to those authorities who have withdrawn funding is, who will market their areas if Welcome to Yorkshire goes under? Somebody will have to have the funds and aspiration to run a tourism body on a commercial basis. It needs to be bold, dynamic and entrepreneurial.
“Welcome to Yorkshire did the job. It sold Yorkshire to the world.”