The council is set to renew its contract with tourism body Make It York – but admits there are issues with the transparency and accountability of the organisation.
Make It York (MIY) was granted a controversial bailout by City of York Council at the end of 2020 after suffering significant losses as a result of the pandemic – despite several business leaders urging the local authority to rethink the plans.
Senior councillors are now set to renew the organisation’s contract until 2024 at a meeting this week.
But a report says: “It is vital that the governance arrangements for MIY ensure confidence in the relationship between the council and MIY and in the robustness of oversight of the company’s delivery of the outcomes agreed with the council.
“Key principles concern transparency and accountability of decision-making as well as the quality of communication between the two parties.”
A new agreement says communication must be improved, with the managing director of MIY Sean Bullick attending council meetings on a regular basis.
Mr Bullick upset market traders in February 2020 when he did not attend a public council meeting to address their concerns. The meeting heard he had been advised that it was unnecessary for him to attend.
‘Not enough control’
The new agreement also makes it clear that more decisions on MIY projects should be made publicly through a democratic process.
MIY is a company wholly owned by the council, but speaking at a scrutiny meeting last week councillor Claire Douglas said: “I don’t think we’ve got enough control over how they work.”
She said the latest available figures show MIY has 67 members of staff and added: “Six of those were there for economic development, which is predominantly what Make It York was set up to do.
“Inward investment is the most recent example of that. And over two years of the many jobs that were created in Yorkshire and Humber by inward investment deals, only 18 of those were in York out of close to 2,000.”
But Cllr Andrew Waller said the organisation will be needed to help the city recover from the pandemic.
He said: “The pandemic has had a considerable impact on all economic activities and MIY is not unusual in this respect, but the way in which it was set up in 2015 meant that it was particularly prone to the loss of income from the events, in particular the Christmas market.
“To have this organisation collapse at this very time in the history of the city would send all the wrong messages to business and those who would be expecting support.
“And the council would therefore be dealing with a situation of recruiting a new team, dealing with the old team and at the same time trying to respond to the workload of that company.”
Winds of change
The council report backing the renewal of MIY’s contract says: “The proposals that follow aim, in essence, to create a closer relationship between the council and MIY.
“The start-up spirit of entrepreneurial independence helped to get MIY established is now in need of realignment as we seek to make best use of our limited resources in the face of the challenges that face us, notably Covid-19, Brexit and the winds of change affecting our high streets.”
The meeting takes place on Thursday at 5.30pm. You can watch it live on the City of York Council YouTube page.