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Welcome to Yorkshire announces outcomes of independent investigations

The Board of Welcome to Yorkshire has today made public the full reports and recommendations from two independent investigations that have been carried out in relation to its operations.

Clarion Solicitors were appointed to investigate the culture, governance procedures and management of the organisation.

Accountants BDO were appointed to investigate the expenses claims of past and present members of the senior management team and Board over the last six years.

Welcome to Yorkshire’s Board committed to make the key themes, findings and recommendations for future improvements from both investigations publicly available which it is now doing, as promised.

The full reports of both investigations can be viewed here: 

BDO Expenses Report

Clarion Culture, Governance, Procedures and Management Report

Keith Stewart, interim Chairman of Welcome to Yorkshire, said: "Welcome to Yorkshire accepts and welcomes the findings and recommendations of these two independent investigations.

"As the interim chairman of Welcome to Yorkshire, I would like to take this opportunity to apologise on behalf of the organisation to those who have been affected by actions and mistakes made. Where we have let people down, we are truly sorry.

"Clearly both reports have identified a number of areas which require improvement and instances where the leadership of the organisation has fallen short of the high standards not only we, but our brilliant team, members, funding partners and stakeholders expect. We have taken immediate steps to remedy this.

 

Improvements

"One of the critical findings from both reports was that whilst Welcome to Yorkshire had processes in place around expenses and HR, unfortunately these weren’t always followed properly or implemented in the most appropriate way and there was a lack of oversight at the most senior level. We have undertaken a number of improvements in these areas and have committed to continue to do so.

"In addition, the report into culture, governance procedures and management of the organisation found that behavioural concerns were not always addressed, and that our culture was not always open or focused on employee wellbeing, development or engagement. We have introduced a number of new measures, including employing a head of HR, to improve this.

"The report into expenses identified some which it felt were for personal rather than for business uses. These have all been repaid. We have prioritised a recommendation for changes to our Board, including a full audit and refresh of its membership by April 2020.

"I would like to thank all those past and present employees and third parties who came forward to share confidentially their experiences and views of the organisation and leadership team.

"We know it has been an incredibly difficult period for everyone involved, particularly our amazing team, who continue to deliver the vital work that Welcome to Yorkshire does on a daily basis. One of the key commitments we have made is to provide counselling for any team members who require this level of support. If any former staff who took part in the investigations feel they require further support this can be arranged by contacting us.

"We appreciate the time and consideration those interviewed have taken to contribute to rebuilding Welcome to Yorkshire and how highly the organisation is valued for everything it achieves for this county.

"We value their honesty into our failings. We also appreciate the desire on the part of all our stakeholders for the organisation to thrive long into the future."

 

Recommendations

Both reports make a range of practical proposals and recommendations based on a number of identified improvement areas (see Appendix 1).

A number of these have already been implemented, others are in the process of being implemented, and others will be considered carefully by the Board.

Keith added: "The Board considers that the practical approach taken, and recommendations made, will assist in the better governance and operation of Welcome to Yorkshire in the years to come.

"As previously stated, we are fully committed to making changes that help rebuild trust in the organisation, to support our team and continue to deliver world-class events in the region.

"We would like to assure all our staff, former staff and partners that the measures we have already put in place, and that will continue to be introduced, will ensure that the same things cannot happen again.

"We are committed to ensuring that a positive culture of leadership and support is fostered and that Welcome to Yorkshire operates as an organisation that everyone can be rightfully proud of."

 

Ends

 

Appendix 1

Both reports identified a number of areas where improvements could be made, including:

  • organisational culture;
  • expenses procedures and governance;
  • remuneration, benefits and pay reviews;
  • policies, procedures, recruitment and HR;
  • perceived divisions within the organisation;
  • and the governance of the Board.

 

Key recommendations and progress to date include

Expenses 

Recommendation

Progress

Expenses and procurement policies reviewed and updated, including introduction of ‘business justification’ system, circulated to all staff and reviewed annually

To be completed by August

Board review networking and hospitality spend on a quarterly basis

All senior management team (SMT) and Board expenses over £250 will be published on the Welcome to Yorkshire website

All expenses to be signed off by relevant authorised SMT or Board member

All SMT expenses are now being signed off by the Interim Chair

Welcome to Yorkshire to exercise its right to reclaim any personal expenses from staff, SMT or Board

In place

Introduction of procurement process to reduce credit card use

Only one credit card remains, an office card, held by the Finance Director. This will only be used to procure one off items such as hotel accommodation. Regular purchases will be made through the procurement system

Implementation of entertainment policy which includes appropriate levels of networking costs for different stakeholder groups

To be completed by August

Whistle-blowing policy review

To be completed by September with staff briefed on how to use it

Introduction of a ‘missing receipt declaration’ form

To be completed by August

Regular reviews of company credit card limits and policies introduced of appropriate use

No longer necessary due to only one credit card remaining

 

Culture, governance procedures and management:

Establish regular staff feedback forums, such as quarterly all staff meetings, weekly departmental meetings, and 1-2-1s

Weekly staff and SMT meetings in place. A staff suggestion scheme is in place. Appraisals for every member of staff will be in place by December

Begin CEO recruitment process and pending appointment establish interim executive plan

Interim leadership team has been put in place whilst new CEO recruited. CEO recruitment plan is underway and an appointment is expected by December with a March/April 2020 start date

 

Conduct a Board review, appoint new members using formal recruitment process and ensure policies for existing members assessed

To be completed by April 2020

Provide counselling for employees and support for former employees who require it

Free counselling is in place for current staff members. Former staff can contact Welcome to Yorkshire to arrange any additional support they may need.

Conduct audit of HR policies, procedures and contracts

The head of HR has written an initial plan with target dates against each item and this is being enacted

Redefine Welcome to Yorkshire’s purpose, vision and values and bring them to life within the business

To be completed by December

Formulate business plan in collaboration with all stakeholders and shared interest groups

A business plan in conjunction with Local Authorities is underway and due for completion soon

 

Welcome to Yorkshire Recommendations and Actions

Both reports make a range of practical proposals and recommendations based on a number of identified improvement areas.

The Board has taken careful note of these and has taken a number of immediate steps to put these into action.

The Board

There will be a full Board refresh by April 2020. We have already taken a number of steps to make the Board more transparent, including the publication of agendas, papers and minutes published on our website.

In addition, a full board review is currently underway to assess the skills, diversity and geography of our existing Board and its make-up to ensure it not only fully reflects the communities it serves but also the wider tourism industry.

Moving forward, Board members will serve a maximum of two terms of three years. Current Board members who have served longer will be replaced on a phased basis until April 2020. Future Board members will be formally recruited through advertising and full role descriptions on Welcome to Yorkshire’s website. Applicants will face a panel interview.

A Board code of standards and conduct is also available online. We are also committed to ensuring our Board members are more accessible to senior managers and staff.

Transparency

As part of a move to greater transparency within the organisation, we have agreed that all senior management team (SMT) and Board expenses over £250 will be published on the Welcome to Yorkshire website.

Culture/HR

The Clarion report into culture, governance procedures and management found that although many past and present employees enjoyed and valued working for Welcome to Yorkshire they have felt let down by a lack of support and human resource policies and procedures within the organisation.

We want to ensure that our staff feel at the heart of everything we do; that they feel valued and have greater career opportunities and development available to them.
To support this, we have employed a head of HR who is working with the organisation on a weekly basis to review, improve and implement new HR policies, procedures and staff development. A whistle-blowing policy is being written with all staff will be briefed on how to use it effectively.

A programme of work has been developed, some of which has already been put in place with an achievable timeline for the remaining priorities set out.

Weekly staff meetings have been put in place to improve communication with a real focus on staff interaction and feedback.

We are also offering free, confidential counselling for team members who require additional support.

Company policy and procedures

Although the BDO report into expenses found Welcome to Yorkshire’s expense policy provided guidance and was adhered to by the majority of staff, the checks and balances around that policy at CEO and SMT level failed.

We have committed to review and update our expenses and procurement policies, including the introduction of a ‘business justification’ system. The policies, which will be updated by August, will be circulated to all staff and reviewed annually.

A new entertainment policy is being produced which includes appropriate levels of networking costs for different stakeholder groups. This will run alongside the current gifts and hospitality policy. Full training is being given on these new and improved policies at all levels of the business. The Board will also review networking and hospitality spend on a quarterly basis.

West Yorkshire Police

We have passed the BDO report into expenses to West Yorkshire Police as requested when we launched these investigations. They are currently looking into the report and haven’t concluded their investigation.

Recruitment of a new Chief Executive

A head-hunter has been appointed by the Board to help with the search for a new CEO. You can see the advertisement on the Welcome to Yorkshire website.

They are currently researching possible candidates for a new CEO but the main recruitment will begin in earnest in September with a full recruitment campaign. We expect to have a new CEO in place by April 2020.

An interim leadership team has been put in place whilst the new CEO is recruited.

Consultation and Collaboration

Earlier this year Welcome to Yorkshire announced a consultation process to ensure the organisation will go forward with a clear understanding of our partners’ and members’ views and aspirations for tourism in our county.

This process will allow our members and partners to help shape our focus and strategy over the next 10 years and allow for even greater collaboration across Yorkshire as part of our commitment to rebuild trust in the organisation and that we operate as an organisation that everyone can be rightfully proud of.

We have gone out to tender for an external company to manage this consultation process for us and will announce very shortly how you can take part. We look forward to hearing your views.

Local Authority Business Plan

There is rapid progress on a new local authority business plan that is both ambitious and realistic, with clear quarterly review processes and a degree of independence.

The business plan will be created in collaboration with our local authority funding partners and will include a full accountability framework including regular review meetings which will allow local authorities to monitor its progress and check delivery and budget.

 

For further information contact:

Marie Christopher-Davey - Director of Communications

Email: mchristopher@yorkshire.com

Direct Line: 0113 322 3537

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