Furious row over who should oversee York tourism company

York council's cabinet member for leisure, culture and tourism, Sonja Crisp. Photograph: York council on Flickr
27 Nov 2014 @ 9.47 pm
| Business, Politics


  City leaders ‘don’t want to work with Cllr Crisp’ – claim

  ‘It’s a Tory smear campaign’ – Cllr Crisp hits back

  Tory leader takes chair of key committee

Even before York’s new tourism and marketing company starts work, a fierce row has broken out over who should oversee it.

At its heart is the accusation that a ‘leading figure in York’s tourism industry’ and several business leaders do not have confidence in Sonja Crisp, Labour’s city council cabinet member for leisure, culture and tourism.

This claim, by Tory council leader Chris Steward, is vehemently denied by Cllr Crisp who described it as part of a smear campaign against her.

The upshot is that Cllr Crisp has been deposed as chair of the NewCo Shareholders Group. It was set up to manage the marketing and tourism body Make It York which launches in April 2015.

What’s the job?

A council-owned company, Make It York will take over the tourism brief from Visit York. And it will manage the festivals and other cultural events – as well as being responsible for attracting inward investment into the city.

The NewCo Shareholders Group has the job of overseeing this powerful new organisation.

The committee comprises two Labour councillors and three from opposition parties. The ruling Labour group no longer have an overall majority and opposition parties are renegotiating the balance of power on council committees.

Whoever chairs this group will be responsible for driving the new organisation forward.

Cllr Crisp is voted in – and out

At a meeting on October 23, Cllr Crisp was voted in as chair of the NewCo group.

One of her votes came from Conservative councillor Paul Healey, who was standing in for Cllr Steward.

But at this week’s staffing matters and urgency committee another vote was taken and he switched his support to Cllr Steward, who replaced Cllr Crisp in the chair as a result.

At that meeting Cllr Healey explained why he had changed his vote.

“It subsequently turns out that representations had been made to opposition members – and possibly may have been made to the ruling party – that the Cabinet member would not be the best choice of chairman.”

These representations “came from people probably more knowledgeable than certainly the two leaders of the groups and certainly myself”.

He said he couldn’t say who made the claims as they were given in confidence.

Cllr Crisp called the decision “incomprehensible”, saying: “Do you feel democracy will have been well served? Because I don’t and I’m fairly sure the general public won’t.”

‘Well known figures oppose Cllr Crisp’

Conservative group leader Chris Steward. Photograph: York Conservatives
“What Paul said about there being people who don’t want to work with Sonja Crisp is absolutely true. That is the case,” Tory group leader Cllr Steward told YorkMix.

“What people are saying privately is, look, we don’t want Sonja Crisp to do it.”

He declined to name these people because that would mean breaking their confidence. But he said they included at least one leading figure in the York tourism industry and a number of business leaders.

Cllr Steward said these were well known people in the city who speak to him a lot, and “they would rather see me than Sonja do it, yes”.

‘Totally unsubstantiated’

Cllr Crisp called Cllr Healey’s accusations “totally unsubstantiated”.

“If you’re going to say that about somebody in the public arena, then you have to give the evidence of what you’ve said, otherwise it’s defamation of character as far as I’m concerned.”

It was an excuse for him switching his vote, she said.

“He stated at the previous meeting that he felt I was the right person for the job – and it was good for the city, because I’d been in on the project from day one, that I should chair the committee.

“He then tried to defend his change of mind by starting a smear campaign against me, which he and other members of the public are continuing on Twitter.”

Does she have the backing of York tourism and business leaders? “I do have their confidence. I have no problems whatsoever.”