Government Quangos have been accused in the
national media of spending up to half a million pounds of public money over the
past three years hiring celebrities to host events.
Although parts of the print media worked
itself up into a frenzy about ‘, wasting public money’, there was a legitimate
point in raising the question of whether some celebrities actually have any
connection with the cause/event beyond their celebrity status.
Yorkshire Forward, the economic
regeneration agency, came under fire from a Sunday
Times investigation that alleged spending of £73,000 for Midge Ure, Sir
Alan Sugar and Michael Portillo to speak and hand out awards at various events
when none has any great connection with the region or the events in question.
Executive director of finance for Yorkshire
Forward, Trevor Shaw, defended the practice: “Yorkshire Forward takes the use
of public funds extremely seriously and we are continually looking for ways to
deliver better value for money for the taxpayer. Our events are a very
effective way of engaging with our region’s business community and we use
keynote speakers to communicate with companies on those issues which are
important. To this end Yorkshire Forward seeks to provide speakers who have
experience, knowledge or expertise that can be passed onto businesses with a
view to making them more effective and profitable.”
Shaw dismissed any idea that these
celebrities were getting money for old rope and says Yorkshire Forward “has
attracted many high-calibre business representatives by bringing together a
line-up of high-quality debate, discussion and speaking”.
The Learning and Skills Council, meanwhile,
was accused of spending £400,000 hiring more than 50 ‘ personalities’ over three
years, while the Training and Development Agency for Schools hired Myleene
Klass, the 31-year-old former Hear’Say singer, to front a campaign to recruit
more science teachers in 2008. A spokeswoman for the agency said the singer had
been studying astronomy at the time was, therefore, “a relevant and legitimate
choice as part of the drive to encourage more science teachers”.