College funding controversy

Controversy under way at Holyrood over college funding. The First Minister satirised Labour for demanding the resignation of pretty well every minister - except him. They may be about to break their duck.

The basics concern the cash available to the further education sector. In Holyrood, under questions, Alex Salmond said that the revenue spending available last year, 2011/12, was £545m and that this year, 2012/13, it was £546m.

QED. An increase. Demands for Michael Russell to quit as Education Secretary over funding were completely misplaced (although he conceded and Mr Russell has conceded that there are cuts pending for next year.)

The original row, of course, had been over the issue of the resignation of a college boss after complaints from Mr Russell that a supposedly private meeting was recorded. That has now been superseded.

After the chamber exchanges, Labour toured the media tower in considerable excitement. Published documents, they said, indicated that the FM was wrong. That he had therefore misled MSPs.

They allege that he has compared the initial, planned figure for last year with the (larger) out-turn figure for this year. The figures they cite are these.

  1. 2011/12 - Planned: £544.7m; Outturn: £555.7m
  2. 2012/13 - Planned: £506.09m; Outturn: £546.4m

In short, there was money added to the total in 2012/13 - but there was also funding added at a later stage last year. The planning and out-turn figures, they say, both indicate a cut.

As I write, Labour's Johann Lamont is preparing to lodge a point of order demanding a statement later from the FM. He may intervene then or hold off. He may, of course, have a full answer to offer.


Labour has duly lodged its point of order. It was spoken to by Hugh Henry, the party's education spokesperson. He said the FM was guilty either of incompetence or of misleading Parliament.

Mr Henry said that the FM was fond of quoting Burns to the effect that "facts are chiels that winna ding". The MSP added: "Well, ding dong."

Gavin Brown for the Conservatives lodged a comparable protest. In the chair, John Scott said the veracity or otherwise of ministerial statements was not a matter for him.

The SNP's business manager Joe Fitzpatrick then intervened to say there was an apparent disparity between the figures published by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICE) and the figures cited by ministers. This would be investigated and parliament informed later as to the outcome.

UPDATE at 1700: Alex Salmond has come back to Parliament to admit that he got the figure wrong. He has apologised.

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