Financial investigators have admitted they cannot pinpoint whether nearly £1m of expenses paid to tourism chiefs at the publicly-funded Welcome to Yorkshire were justified as senior officials said at least a six-figure sum was given to former chief executive Sir Gary Verity.
An investigation by forensic accountants BDO - ordered in the wake of Sir Gary’s resignation on health grounds in March alongside a parallel inquiry into bullying allegations - examined £900,000 of claims by senior managers and board members over the past six years.
But they said they were unable to determine whether the majority were “reasonable and proportionate” due to a lack of clear policies and details of the business purpose of the spending.
Keith Stewart, the interim chairman of Welcome to Yorkshire, said he was unable to give a precise figure for how much of the £900,000 related specifically to Sir Gary’s expenses claims.
Gary Verity declines to be interviewed for Welcome to Yorkshire reports
But Mr Stewart added: “Over the course of six years I would imagine it would certainly be into six figures for Sir Gary. What I would also like to point out is the vast majority of these expenses were in pursuit of promoting Yorkshire.”
BDO did identify £26,000 of claims considered to be “personal” expenses that were “not incurred wholly for the benefit” of Welcome to Yorkshire. Mr Stewart said that apart from one claim from another person for less than £200 which had been a “mistake”, all of the personal spending related to Sir Gary and he had repaid the full amount.
The BDO report also highlighted a purchase invoice for £6,600 which “did not reflect the service that was provided to WtY” and the sum was subsequently repaid. Mr Stewart said he was unable to give further details but confirmed the repayment had been made by Sir Gary.
Details of the purchase invoice issue and the expense claims, along with the BDO report, have been provided to West Yorkshire Police.
BDO said that in addition to the ‘personal’ expenses, there were other claims that may have had a “both a business and personal element”. It said it had been unable to conclude precisely how many such claims there had been due “the lack of a clear and unambiguous entertainment policy”.
The report said: “We are not in a position to conclude whether the majority of material expenses were reasonable and proportionate.”
The tourism agency is a private company but receives millions of pounds from the public sector, largely from local councils.
Sir Gary Verity has issued a defence of his record at Welcome to Yorkshire.
A spokesman said: "Gary has had only the briefest of opportunities to consider the reports that have been released today. When he stood down in March, he acknowledged that some errors had been made. As concerns expenses, all expenses went through the proper processes and were signed off by both the Chairman and the Audit committee.
"Sir Gary is and has always been a passionate Yorkshireman, driven to see his county prosper, which it most certainly did under his leadership of WtY. He accepts his passion to succeed may on occasion not have been in-step with present day cultural norms, albeit many of the claims made by some of the individuals were wildly wide of the mark.
"It was an honour and a privilege for Sir Gary to lead WtY and to develop the county’s profile and inward investment. He wishes his former colleagues the very best for the future as WtY builds upon the strong foundations his tenure provided.”