David Parkin on why Welcome to Yorkshire’s woes are self-inflicted

I DON’T know what they put in the chief executive’s tea at Welcome to Yorkshire but they need to change the teabags.

It was announced this week that James Mason, the chief executive of the Yorkshire tourism organisation, is leaving after less than two years in the role.

He replaced Sir Gary Verity who resigned on health grounds in March 2019 amidst allegations about expenses spending and his behaviour towards staff.

While Welcome to Yorkshire and James Mason both said his departure was due to him taking up an unspecified new role in the New Year, I don’t buy that line.

Within hours of the news being announced the BBC reported that an internal complaint about Mr Mason’s conduct had been received and was under investigation.

Welcome to Yorkshire confirmed a complaint had been received, but did not state its nature nor name the individuals involved.

It declined to comment until its investigations were completed.

When James Mason appeared on Look North on Monday evening he was asked by presenter Amy Garcia whether a complaint had been made against him and if it was being investigated.

He wasn’t facing a grand inquisitor like Andrew Neil but he floundered in answering the question and twice attempted to change the subject.

Let’s get a few things straight here.

If James Mason was indeed heading off to a bigger and better new role in the New Year then why is he leaving in October?

Wouldn’t any CEO in such a role be on more than one month’s notice?

Surely he would want to stay on and steady the ship and ensure a smooth handover to his successor?

You would expect his employer to want that transition to take place too.

Unless it suited both that he was allowed to jump before he was pushed.

Plenty of people have bought the narrative that he has been headhunted for some huge new role.

But to me that looks as flimsy as the credentials he used to get the job in the first place.

I wouldn’t call him the best of a bad bunch who were shortlisted for the CEO role at Welcome to Yorkshire: more like the least worst.

The four-strong shortlist for the job was so poor, if I was Welcome to Yorkshire I’d have been asking the headhunting firm for a refund.

The truth is James Mason was a lightweight who was fortunate to get the job in the first place.

I’d be pretty sure the 130 grand a year salary was at least double what he had ever earned in any previous role.

Chief operating officer at Bradford City for four years followed by a year in a similar role at an organisation that finds scholarships for sporting students convinced WtY chair Peter Box and his feckless board of directors that here was the man to steer the organisation through troubled waters and set it on an even keel.

And that was before the pandemic.

Box was installed as chairman by the local authorities who bailed out Welcome to Yorkshire after Sir Gary Verity’s departure.

I’m sure there was method in their madness.

The former long-serving Labour leader of Wakefield Council is a prickly character and the new role might have been seen as a convenient way to move him out of the political arena.

Some might describe Box as quirky, but I’d say oddball is more apt.

I had a consultancy role as an ambassador for Welcome to Yorkshire’s Y30 corporate scheme for three years up until last year.

Don’t worry, no expenses were involved, just a small monthly fee plus an amazing opportunity to meet great people and visit fantastic places while promoting everything that was good about Yorkshire.

After the tumult of Sir Gary’s departure had died down I was summoned in to meet Peter Box.

I’ve met plenty of people who think they can gain the upper hand in a conversation by making a shock comment.

This was certainly the oddest conversation I’ve ever had.

As I sat down on a sofa opposite Box in Welcome to Yorkshire’s HQ in Holbeck, Leeds, he said: “I had a dream last night. I dreamt that I slept with Katy Perry.”

OK, I thought, there’s no real answer to that.

He went on: “Don’t worry, in my dream Mrs Box had died the night before so I wasn’t cheating on her.”

I said my dreams tended to be about more mundane matters like forgetting to put the bin out and I enquired as to the well-being of Mrs Box.

He assured me she was in rude health and they were very happily married.

He then asked me what tattoo I thought he had.

By this point I was getting into the swing of things so I suggested he had a pair of boxing gloves etched on his bicep.

He shook his head with disdain and told me that he had a wolf tattoo on his back.

Or at least that’s what I think he said because I was focusing on trying to keep this conversation as short as possible.

He told me he was going to ask as the opening question to the four candidates for the CEO’s role that he was interviewing that week what tattoo they thought he had.

I said that was certainly a disarming approach and then made myself scarce as quickly as possible.

When James Mason was named as the new CEO I knew him vaguely through a mutual friend.

He’s a nice guy with the best interests of Yorkshire at heart and I wished him well and offered him whatever support was needed.

Welcome to Yorkshire has done so much good for the region and its team had endured a bruising time and deserved stability.

Then the pandemic struck last year and it was no surprise that my small role was no longer needed.

I agreed with it: I’d cut costs in my own business because of Covid-19, we all had to make difficult decisions at a tough time.

But I’m a great believer that if you make a tough decision in business then you have to front it up yourself.

James Mason got WtY director Peter Dodd to ring me with the news rather than doing it himself.

I thought that was unfair on Peter and not a great reflection on James.

But you move on and I’m not one to hold a grudge.

So much so that when I bumped into James and his family at a Yorkshire County Cricket Club match at Headingley in July I introduced him to club chairman Roger Hutton.

It was nice to put together two people running two of the region’s most high profile organisations.

Little did I know that just a few weeks later James Mason would be on his bike soon after announcing that next year’s Tour de Yorkshire won’t take place.

I’m told that the decision not to hold the UK’s biggest bike race was made by race organiser ASO, the French company that runs the Tour de France, some time ago.

Despite it being an open secret in cycling circles, the official announcement of the race’s cancellation was only made by Welcome to Yorkshire in early September.

Yes Sir Gary Verity is a friend of mine, but I’d be the first one to say that he made mistakes, has an ego and perhaps little humility and doubtless was a tough taskmaster to work for.

You can point to the incredible things achieved during his tenure at Welcome to Yorkshire, but I guess that is no excuse.

What I find distasteful is the way that former politicians and others with an axe to grind still use the mainstream media and social media in particular to heap opprobrium on him.

At some point or another everyone needs to be allowed to move on.

Whether that’s Gary Verity, James Mason or whoever.

And I’m moving on too.

Well I’ve told Peter Box I can’t introduce him to Katy Perry so I’ve asked whether Jane McDonald will do.

:::

I’VE not watched the big new BBC TV series called The North Water yet, but I’m looking forward to it.

The historical drama is about the crew of a whaling ship that sets sail from Hull on an ill-fated expedition to the Arctic.

Starring Stephen Graham, Colin Farrell, Jack O’Connell and Hull’s finest Tom Courtenay, I’m told that it is a toned down version of the brutal novel by author and academic Ian McGuire who carried out extensive research into what life would have been like on a whaling vessel in Victorian times.

I only mention it because I recently set out on an intrepid expedition from Hull.

But rather than heading to the frozen wastes of the Arctic I explored the many cultural aspects of this magical Far East city.

Regular readers may remember accounts of my previous trips to Hull on a “Cultural Tour” or “Jolly Boys outing” to give it a more accurate name.

After last year’s trip didn’t take place because of Covid, it was lovely to head to Hull again to join an entertaining and welcoming bunch of local entrepreneurs as they set out on a tour of some of the city’s cultural and historical highlights punctuated by regular stops at historic hostelries.

Organised by Shaun Watts of Chameleon Business Interiors, if the trip taught me one thing it is that I need to boost my stamina levels for days out like this.

We breakfasted at Thieving Harry’s on Humber Street and lunched at Tapasya Indian restaurant overlooking the marina and in between visited two of the city’s museums and walked the cobbled streets of its Old Town.

We were regaled with stories of Kingston-upon-Hull from Roman times to the present day by historian and academic Robb Robinson, who we were lucky to have with us as he is in demand as a speaker on cruise ships.

He’s not been as far as the Arctic, but the Norwegian fjords were nice, he told me.

Robb showed us the dry dock where the ship The Bounty, aboard which Fletcher Christian led a mutiny against Captain Bligh, was built.

And I learned from him that another sailor who ended up on a desert island, Robinson Crusoe, the title character in Daniel Defoe’s novel, set off on his voyage from Hull.

I have to admit that the events of the rest of the day are slightly blurred, but suffice to say it was another cracking trip.

As I boarded the train at Hull station to return to Leeds in the evening I reflected on how much culture, history and fine conversation had been imbibed during the day.

And then set the alarm on my phone to make sure I got off at the right station and didn’t end up at Manchester Airport.

Culture can be quite tiring, you know.

Have a great weekend.

1 comment

  1. David Oddie

    David,
    Absolutely spot on regarding WTY. Very well said. I must take issue with you on one point however ; Jane Mcdonald is a very nice lady and has done absolutely nothing to deserve an introduction to Peter Box and the tattoo on his back which he thinks is a wolf but is actually a dartboard.
    Regards
    David Oddie

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *