Welcome To Yorkshire is set to come under closer scrutiny from the councils that part-fund the tourism and inward investment agency following the departure last month of chief executive Sir Gary Verity amid allegations he had misclaimed £40,000 in expenses - raising the prospect of a knock-on effect on the high-profile cycling events the region hosts.
Welcome To Yorkshire this week launched two separate investigations into Verity, one regarding his expenses, the other into allegations of bullying by him made by former members of staff.
When Verity departed the company, its chair Ron McMillan said he did not believe that the issue of his expenses required police investigation, but West Yorkshire Police have been made aware of the two inquiries.
The police have said, however, that it is “not clear if any criminal offences have been committed.”
Welcome To Yorkshire has launched a search for a successor to the larger-than-life Verity, with board member Keith Stewart saying: “I’m sure that person will be different and set a different tone.”
What his departure means in terms of the region’s ambitions to become the world’s leading destination for cycling is unknown for now.
Bidding for the 2014 Tour de France Grand Depart, at a time when British Cycling and the UK government were backing a rival bid from Edinburgh, was very much Verity’s idea, coming to him in the shower one day.
Besides hosting the Tour de France and launching Tour de Yorkshire, the region also bid successfully for this year’s UCI Road Cycling World Championships, which will mainly be based in Harrogate
The events have generated a huge return on investment for the region’s economy – the Tour de Yorkshire alone brought in an economic benefit of £50 million in 2014, which rose steadily to £98 million last year.
But with Welcome To Yorkshire part-funded by contributions from local authorities, how it spends its money will come under closer scrutiny than ever as a result of the expenses scandal.
The Yorkshire Post reported earlier this week that the councils that make up the Leeds City Region were seeking an urgent meeting with the company.
Councillor Tim Swift, the chairman of the Leeds City Region business rates pool board, said: “Any misuse of public funds is completely unacceptable. Welcome to Yorkshire is a limited company and decisions on executive pay and expenses are made by its board.
“The Leeds City Region business rates pool board is seeking an urgent meeting with the chair of the Welcome to Yorkshire board, to outline the defined and distinct conditions that will need to be in place for medium-term funding from the pool to be committed.
“We will also ask for reassurance on the rigour of the independent review announced by Welcome to Yorkshire’s board and for agreement on the timeline for it to be completed. Council leaders will use the opportunity of the results of this review to strengthen the accountability, transparency and diversity of the governance of public resources.”
He added: “The councils represented on the board will continue to support the Welcome to Yorkshire team to deliver the flagship events in the region and county.”
According to the Guardian, more than half of Welcome To Yorkshire’s annual turnover is publicly funded, to the tune of a combined £14.9 million over the past five years.
Meanwhile, Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme says he feels sad for Verity, with whom he worked closely prior to the Grand Depart of the 2014 edition of the race. The pair's working relationship continued with the launch the following year of the Tour de Yorkshire, held jointly by Tour de France owners ASO and Welcome To Yorkshire in partnership with British Cycling.
The Guardian reports that Prudhomme, speaking at Welcome To Yorkshire’s Y19 trade show at the Royal Armouries in Leeds yesterday, said: “I cannot help but feel sad for the man who made me discover your beautiful county, for the man who brought together our ‘ooh la la’ with your ‘ee bah gum’, the man who made me love Yorkshire: mon ami, Gary Verity.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.