Almost £1,000 of taxpayers’ money has been spent on giving Derek Mackay public speaking lessons from a firm which promises to turn “nervous wrecks into skilled presenters”.
The finance secretary went on a £972.12 “refresher public speaking” course in 2018/19, according to the Scottish Government.
The lessons were provided by voicebusiness, a company offering communication skills training.
The firm is run by individuals with experience in acting and theatrical performance as well as media experts including the journalist Ruth Wishart.
According to its website, voicebusiness “turns nervous wrecks into skilled presenters, polished public speakers, accomplished video presenters, effective networkers and excellent business communicators”.
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Mr Mackay’s public speaking lesson was revealed in an answer to a Freedom of Information request, which also revealed that other Scottish Government ministers had received help with their presentation skills over the last few years.
A number had media training offered internally by the Scottish Government at no cost to the taxpayer. Others, like Mr Mackay, had public money spent on getting outside expertise.
In 2014/15, the then Education Secretary Angela Constance received £1,200 in media training from Pink Elephant Communications, a company founded by the TV presenter Bill McFarlan.
Others to receive the £1,200 session that year were Annabel Ewing, the then Youth and Women’s Employment Minister; the then Environment Minister Aileen MacLeod and the then Public Health Minister Maureen Watt.
In the same year, the current Transport Secretary and then Justice Secretary Michael Matheson had Pink Elephant Communications’ training at a cost of £1,440.
Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said: “Derek Mackay may have felt he needed to spend public money to change his oratorical style from dalek to Demosthenes.
“But it’s not speaking lessons he needed – it’s a course in how not to fleece hardworking people in Scotland.
“This money from the taxpayer may have helped him deliver the budget more eloquently.
“But its contents remain deeply troubling and will have a real impact on family finances right across Scotland.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “In common with senior positions in other large organisations a range of training is made available to Ministers, including courses in media and public speaking skills.
“This training has an important role in supporting Ministers in their delivery of official government business. These courses are delivered in-house where possible.”