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HOW THE Scottish Executive must long for 2002. By then all the money from its "excellence fund", the new opportunities fund, the new deal for buildings fund, perhaps even

a McCrone fund, will have found its way into schools, leaving richly resourced classrooms and well-rewarded teachers. You never know.

For the present, as our front page demonstrates, it is a drearily familiar pantomime story on local education funding. "You have lots more money," the Executive tells the education authorities. "Oh no we don't," comes the reply. "Oh yes you do," say the ministers. Jack McConnell, the Finance Minister, claims he is helping out the most hard-pressed authorities - Aberdeenshire, East Dunbartonshire and Argyll and Bute - and gets a raspberry for his pains.

The pound;377 million excellence fund, ironically, seems to have exacerbated rather than alleviated the problems. The ring-fenced cash is untouchable which means councils have to squeeze other areas and no doubt some unsympathetic finace chiefs look on education budgets as feather-bedded. This has led to bizarre anomalies: Perth and Kinross is proposing to remove its entire behavioural support service to save pound;80,000 with one hand, while ploughing excellence funding into an "alternatives to exclusion" programme with the other.

The Executive's problem is that the impressive sounding excellence fund, while a welcome indication that the Government puts its money where its priorities are, is trickling into schools over three years and is spread across 32 councils; in Scottish Borders, for example, it amounts to around pound;200,000 per programme next year a year. At the same time, years of financial attrition, unrelenting demands for "efficiency gains" and seven years of self-financed pay settlements have left the local government cupboard bare.

It is difficult to argue with those who now say that enough is enough and nothing less than a fundamental rethink of the local funding of national services is required.

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