A city centre business-owner has started a petition against plans to use taxpayers’ money to bail out tourism body Make It York.
Make It York (MIY), a destination management organisation created by City of York Council, has asked for support which could total almost £2 million in loans and payment deferrals.
The organisation says without help, MIY and Visit York will shut down, leaving significant debts which will fall on the council to pay.
But leading York businessman Phil Pinder has started a petition urging councillors to wind the company up now, saying its functions could be merged with other organisations and staff redeployed to reduce the council’s liabilities.
He said: “There has been real concern for many months about how Make It York has been run.
“Staff morale has been rock bottom, lots of good people have been locked out the door for at a very high cost just so other people doing the same job could be brought in.
“It’s not as much concern when they’re doing this on their own funds, but when they’re asking the taxpayer to underwrite future debt, it’s another game entirely.
“The organisation was created to minimise risk to council funds, if councillors super this begging request then they will be putting the future of key council services at real risk.
“A request of nearly £2 million to save an organisation no one thinks is working is an astonishing ask.
“I think if there is council loan money available, let’s invest it in making the city better, like repaving Parliament Street.
“To give away such money with no action plan or performance checks is questionable.
“What investment has MIY brought to the city since it’s formation, and at what cost, why would you simply carry on pouring money down the MIY drain. Cut your losses, before they become £2 million more.
“We live in a democracy. If people don’t agree, let their feelings be known.”
Lost able people
Senior councillors have been told MIY has been “decimated” by the pandemic – but is needed to aid the city’s economic recovery.
Martin Bradnam, of Hospitality Association York, said: “I do think a lot of questions have to be raised about the organisation in its current form.
“Their responses to the pandemic have been exceptionally slow.
“They have made some very difficult decisions but have lost some very able people.
“The council needs to look cold and hard at the situation and the organisation and its leadership, because this is a significant amount of money.
“MIY should not cost the taxpayer any money, because it charges businesses large fees.
“It is a lot of money for the council to invest in an organisation which is not performing and reacting as quickly as we may have hoped.”
No need for debate
Sean Bullick, managing director of MIY, said:
“Our city is under great pressure from covid-19 and the economic impacts of the pandemic, and at this time York needs an organisation like Make It York that can promote the city, attract visitors and investment, and support local businesses more than ever.
“In the last three years, Make It York’s Growth Managers have supported 322 companies in York to access £1,498,589 in grants from the Leeds City Region alone.
“Since the pandemic started, we have directly supported over 700 businesses in the city, held 39 roundtables across 13 sectors with organisations from start-ups to major businesses, to understand business needs, develop provision and lobby for resources at the highest levels with central government.
“We have held a series of high-profile events to support local businesses and to raise York’s profile – including York Business Week, Roadmap to Recovery at the Festival of Ideas, York’s Creative Future to launch the city’s new Culture Strategy, and the Visit York Tourism Awards.
“We have led on the Tourism Marketing Recovery Strategy alongside City of York Council, marketing York as a welcoming destination to residents and visitors, restarted the Tourism Advisory Board, with representatives from across the leisure and hospitality sectors to steer its future direction, provided ongoing support to our Visit York members and Shambles Market traders, and we are leading the implementation of the city’s new and ambitious Culture Strategy, with the council and the York Cultural Leaders Group.
“In addition to this we’ve created York’s first ever virtual Christmas Market to bring the magic of York into people’s homes, rolled out a safe and welcoming city-centre Christmas offer, with festive experiences including a carousel and Christmas food stalls, and organised the installation of 15km of beautiful Christmas lights to brighten the city, in partnership with the York BID.
“We recognise that there is lots more to do, but the last thing the city of York needs right now is to pause for an internal debate, when instead we should be accelerating our work to promote the city – supporting our local businesses and teaming together to make the most we can of the vital Christmas period.”
The bailout will be discussed at a council meeting on Tuesday.