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What skills shortage?

The scene - a ministerial office within the Scottish Executive. Jim Kay, minister without portfolio for bairns, weans, tots, education, good ideas and everything, is meeting his young persons' think-tank.

"Come in, come in guys, and guyesses of course! Brilliant piece of work here. Thinking right out of the box. Plumbing the depths of real blue sky thinking! That's what I like to see! Pushing the envelope right out. Fifth dimension stuff! Absolutely no preconceptions or inhibitions!

"And they all said my idea for young persons' think-tanks wouldn't work properly. But we showed them, didn't we? Eh? Eh?

"I mean - I do really mean - this document you sent me: exactly what the doctor ordered. Just the job. When I told you to come up with ideas for curing the skills shortage and anything else you could think of, they all said we couldn't do it, but we have, haven't I? I mean, haven't we, guys - and guyesses, of course?

"I was doubted. But no longer, thanks to you guys - and guyesses, of course! Wait till I take this to cabinet. It's on the agenda for this afternoon's meeting. The First Minister is absolutely going to love it! Brilliant piece of work."

"But minister . . ."

"No buts, guys - and guyesses, of course. Absolutely no buts! No need for modesty here, we're all equal - or at least nearly. This is, after all the 20th century - sorry, the 21st century! My little joke there.

"Now this paper on reducing the skills shortage and everything else. I love, simply love it to bits!

"Replacing fluoride in the water supply by Viagra and Spanish Fly, Brilliant! Simply brilliant!

"Not only does it increase the population, keeping maternity hospitals, nurseries and schools open, keeping midwives, nursery nurses, teachers and other miscellaneous tradespeople employed, but it also kills the old age pensioners by exhaustion, thereby reducing the pensions crisis. Absolutely brilliant!

"And it gets better. They die with a smile on their faces - gives their grieving relatives good thoughts about our administration, that is when they can get their minds off procreating long enough to produce thoughts! Wonderful.

"Mind you, I suppose it is a bit long-termish - how quickly does this Viagra stuff work? But never mind, eh? I'm sure we can get the new offspring working. After all, with new technology it doesn't take much strength to work a lathe or operate a plumbing spanner - they're all computer controlled aren't they?"

"But minister . . ."

"Really guys - and guyesses, of course - no need for modesty.

"I really love your next idea - keep the workforce healthy and reduce the heart attacks in the workforce. What was the title of that chapter again? Ah yes, here it is: "The Angina Monologues". Simple but effective? Why hadn't anyone thought about it before?

"Keep the heart healthy by taking three tablespoons of syrup of figs every morning - that way you keep on the run all day, keeping your bowels open and taking exercise at the same time! None of this crap (did you note my little joke again?) about healthy eating! No need to spend money on school meals! Eat what you like, but get rid of it fast! Perfect.

"The First Minister is going to love this, I can tell you."

"But minister . . ."

"I do wish you wouldn't interrupt me.

"Now the bit about making smoking illegal until you reach 50 - and then giving the wrinklies free cigarettes on prescription. Another bit of deep blue sky, off the wall, original, envelope-pushing thinking. Keep young people out of hospital, thereby solving the skills deficit, but kill older people by smoking to reduce the pensions bill.

"Magnificent! And your idea for a slogan: "Forget the six pack! Get a 50 pack of FREE cigarettes. Celebrate your 50th with a 50 pack. Get your free cigarette prescription from your local friendly pharmacy. Smart.

"And even smarter your suggestion for giving geriatric ambulance service contracts to Reliance - that way no patients actually reach hospital, so no need for expensive beds. Perfect!

"Anyway, enough of this idle chatter, must get along to the cabinet.

Incidentally, you do know what the cabinet is, don't you? It's where important grown-ups like me meet to decide how the country is to be run.

So, run along now and think up some brilliant new ideas, won't you? Goodbye!"

And so the minister moves swiftly off in the direction of the cabinet meeting room waving his ideas paper.

The young people are left alone.

"Do you think we should have told him that we sent him our spoof article for the school magazine by mistake?"

"Don't be stupid! How do you think policy is made in this country anyway?"

Jim Kennedy is a consultant.

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