A SCOTTISH Government agency created to get youngsters off the dole was last night criticised for spending more than £500,000 of taxpayers' money on a branding exercise at a time when Scotland is struggling with youth unemployment.
The Skills Development Scotland agency was attacked for earmarking 260,000 for 2010-11 plus 295,000 for the following financial year to publicise itself through new signs, new letterheads and corporate advertising.
The Scottish Government pledged to look at branding expenditure after a row erupted when opposition politicians argued the money would be better spent on the organisation's aim to get young people into employment. Scottish youth unemployment has soared by 89 per cent since 2008.
Yesterday's controversy was not the first time that the organisation has found itself in the limelight. Earlier this year, SDS's decision to spend 20,000 of public money on hiring the celebrity hypnotist Paul McKenna to deliver a motivational talk to unemployed youngsters at Hampden Park was greeted with fury.
The row began at First Minister's Questions yesterday when Labour leader Iain Gray produced information from official SDS documents and suggested that public cash was being wasted on renaming the organisation "Scotland The Works". The document referred to a "visual identity transition budget".
Labour later produced another SDS document that mentioned "Scotland The Works" and the "destruction of all SDS materials". Later, SDS said changing the organisation's name had been mooted, but was rejected by SDS directors in March.
The agency said the 555,000 marketing money was being spent on publicising the Skills Development Scotland brand – which has been formed by taking elements of Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Careers Scotland and Learndirect Scotland under the SDS umbrella.
Mr Gray said: "The one thing that SDS cannot deny is that they are wasting half a million pounds on a 'visual identity transition', which is a branding exercise in anyone's language.
"Alex Salmond should take immediate action to stop this at a time when youth unemployment is one of the most serious problems facing the country."
A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We have asked SDS to provide ministers with assurances that expenditure on brand issues can be fully justified. The excellent and highly successful work that SDS does means that the promotion of their skills and careers services is and must be central to all their work."
An SDS spokeswoman said: "We are in the process of changing our name to Skills Development Scotland from the names of the predecessor organisations. An internal proposal to use 'Scotland the Works' as a corporate brand was rejected by our directors on 30 March and therefore was not put to ministers.
"The old organisation identities are being phased out – Careers Scotland, Learndirect Scotland and the skills arms of Scottish Enterprise and HIE – and we will ensure all our materials reflect our new name, Skills Development Scotland."