Holyrood

7th November 2008 at 00:00

It's Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop's favourite phrase: "But can I just say ...". It is apt, given that "just saying" is something at which she excels, as the Parliament's education committee discovered last week.

The session, at which the committee was taking evidence on the budget process for 2009-10, lasted over two hours. Ms Hyslop certainly required the still and sparkling bottles of Strathmore placed in front of her to wet her whistle.

She had with her the director of children, young people and social care, the director of schools and the director of lifelong learning. But only the latter, Andrew Scott, spoke, and then barely a dozen words. Sarah Smith, the first of the trio and the only panel member The TESS had a good view of, looked like one of the cast from the film Awakenings, before Robyn Williams's character dishes out the magic medicine.

In the background, babies wailed (committee room 3 is close to the creche). It was surprising that the constant drone coming from next door didn't lull the infants to sleep.

Convener and Labour MSP Karen Whitefield's face was largely inscrutable throughout, although her eyes did quickly flit heavenwards and she let out a gentle sigh when, after asking Ms Hyslop for the second time to be more succinct, the cabinet secretary's next answer ran to ... words.

Ms Whitefield told the SNP's Aileen Campbell that she deserved an A+ for her concise question, but Ms Hyslop was told she could "try a bit harder keeping to the point".

Anyone listening who escaped unaware that we were lucky efficiency savings were at 2 per cent, not 3 per cent as in England; that Skills Development Scotland would be more responsive to the nation's training needs; and that Scotland has a fixed budget must have resorted to stuffing something - anything - in their ears.

The repetition was not all Ms Hyslop's fault. There was also a lot of it in the questions.

Labour's Ken Macintosh asked several times how much money was in the local government settlement to reduce class sizes. Having given in to pester power once, recently revealing Pounds 30 million to fund free school meals, Ms Hyslop has only herself to blame. As a mother, she should have known better.

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