SCOTTISH Enterprise has been criticised for spending thousands of pounds on hiring celebrities to attend business events.
The quango paid fees to personalities including comedian Fred MacAulay, chef Tom Kitchin and broadcaster John Humphrys.
MacAulay was paid more than £21,000 of taxpayers’ cash to host three dinners at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre celebrating Scotland’s life sciences business sector.
Kitchin was paid £15,000 to travel to Dubai for a five-day world food exhibition at the Gulf state’s World Trade Centre.
Figures released under Freedom of Information laws show Scottish Enterprise paid £44,440 to celebrities over the past three years.
Last year alone £30,000 was given to guest speakers – the highest total since 2009.
The government jobs creation body said the cost is offset by ticket sales at the events but critics insisted Scottish Enterprise should keep a tight rein on spending.
Scottish Conservative enterprise spokesman Murdo Fraser MSP said: “Everyone appreciates bodies like Scottish Enterprise need to have a budget for paying high-profile and successful people to host events. But the sheer cost of this has to be called into question.
“With so many pressures on public spending, and businesses across the country crying out for support, Scottish Enterprise needs to ask itself if this level of expenditure is justified.”
Eben Wilson, director of the campaign group Taxpayer Scotland, said: “Events like these turn Scottish Enterprise into an over-eager promotional agency.
“While that role is enjoyable, you have to ask if the returns will ever offer value for the tax costs incurred.”
Others to benefit included BBC presenter Humphrys who was paid £6,600 to attend a Commonwealth Games business conference in Glasgow last July.
The Radio 4 Today programme host moderated a debate at the University of Glasgow.
Michelin-starred chef Kitchin, who owns The Kitchin restaurant in Edinburgh, travelled to the Gulfood exhibition in Dubai in February 2014 at the expense of Scottish Enterprise.
Bosses said his role was to develop relationships with buyers from Dubai’s high end hotels and promote Scottish produce.
He also cooked at a private networking dinner organised by the jobs body during his stay which was attended by 140 people.
The restaurateur’s £15,000 fee covered his travel, accommodation and expenses during the five-day visit.
A spokesman for Scottish Enterprise said: “We only use ‘personalities’ to host a small number of large-scale customer events and conferences.
“These events are generally self-financing as income is generated through ticket sales or sponsorship.
“This allows us to offset speaker fees and other costs associated with staging these events and to ensure that we secure maximum value for money.
“Total expenditure in these three years was £44,400 covering six separate events which were attended by approximately 82,860 people.”