Ministers have come under new fire over revelations that Whitehall officials are engaged in a plot to undermine the region’s role in hosting the start of next year’s Tour de France.
Shadow Culture Minister and Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis has attacked the Government over evidence civil servants are trying to rebrand the Grand Départ in Yorkshire.
Saturday’s Yorkshire Post revealed details of a private meeting which showed how the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) had decided to market the event as the ‘England’ Grand Départ in a snub to the region’s tourism chiefs who last year beat the Government’s own Scottish-based bid to secure the landmark event.
Heavily-censored documents reveal UK Sport advised the Government not to give public money to the event secured by tourism agency Welcome to Yorkshire owing to concerns over the “financial and logistical viability of the plans”. It expressed “limited confidence in Welcome to Yorkshire’s leadership of the event”.
Both the department and UK Sport even tried to bypass Yorkshire altogether in marketing the event via the national tourism agency VisitEngland. The move is particularly controversial as showcasing Yorkshire to a worldwide audience is seen as a central benefit of hosting the race.
Yesterday Mr Jarvis, who has shadow responsibility for tourism, said: “Given so many people felt that London was the main recipient from the 2012 Olympics, I am saddened that the Government seem determined to undermine Yorkshire’s ability to use this as a unique marketing experience to showcase Yorkshire as an amazing tourist destination.
“The Tour de France is a global sporting event that will be watched by millions of people around the world.
“This fantastic opportunity was brilliantly secured by Welcome to Yorkshire in order to maximise the benefits for Yorkshire people and Yorkshire businesses.
“This is a unique opportunity to market Yorkshire’s tourist offer to a global audience.” He added: “Let’s be clear, the Tour de France is coming to Yorkshire because of the efforts of Welcome to Yorkshire and Leeds City Council.
“Whilst I understand that the Government, through DCMS and Sport England, has an important role to play in supporting work in the region to ensure this is a world-class sporting event, it’s important that the Grand Départ reflects the fact that this was a Yorkshire-based bid and that two of the three stages of the race take place in Yorkshire.
“This is the Yorkshire Grand Départ not the ‘England’ Grand Départ.”
Minutes of meetings released to the Yorkshire Post under the Freedom of Information Act reveal the depth of tension and mistrust between Whitehall and Yorkshire’s tourism and council officials.
Welcome to Yorkshire’s request for funding for a new tourism strategy to capitalise on the event was rejected by Sports Minister Hugh Robertson in April on the advice of UK Sport.
In a letter, he said neither he or UK Sport were “convinced this event needs an expensive marketing strategy”.
Visit England has now been tasked with marketing the event as the ‘England’s Grand Départ’ as after two days of racing through some of the most spectacular countryside in the UK in Yorkshire, the event will go on to a third stage between Cambridge and London.
Last month, a Press release from Visit England made 11 separate references to ‘England’ but only one to Yorkshire.
A deal which will see Yorkshire councils fund the event to the tune of £11m, with another £10m from the Treasury, has now been secured but Welcome to Yorkshire has been stripped of overall control.
Visit England has argued it is doing its job in supporting all destinations in England linked with the Tour de France.
The DCMS has insisted it will work closely with all tourism agencies “to maximise the benefits of hosting the start of the world’s biggest cycle race”.